Hi and welcome to my complete and simplified guide to SEO for bloggers.
In today’s guide you’ll learn:
- What SEO is
- The importance of SEO for bloggers
- How search engines like Google work
- And lots of other tips to help you improve your SEO rankings get more free traffic as a blogger
The purpose of this guide is to get down to the basics and to really simplify what SEO means and how search engine optimization works for bloggers.
This guide is for you. Yes, YOU!
The solo blogger working day & night trying to grow your blog by yourself and trying to figure out why SEO seems so difficult and if you can actually ever grasp it.
The one thing I need you to keep in mind as we go through this guide is that SEO is simply a strategy.
The concept of SEO isn’t as complicated as it’s been made to be.
The difficult part is keeping up with all of the things you need to help your blog rank higher and with millions of blogs launching everyday, the competition is only getting tougher.
It’s the sum of all of those things and all the constant search engine algorithm changes that make SEO seem like such a tough subject.
At the end of the day it all comes down to a combination of blogging practices you should be following already and if you’re able to do them well then the rest should fall in place.
I remember when I first started learning about SEO I read so many different articles and followed so many different tactics that the whole process just became overwhelming.
I don’t want you to go through a similar experience.
The goal is to get you to understand exactly how SEO works and to show you the things that will have the biggest impact on your blogging traffic.
So if you’re ready to get started and want to improve your blog’s organic traffic, you’ll enjoy this guide to SEO for Bloggers.
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.
There are of course a thousand different technical definitions for SEO.
Once again this post isn’t so much about the technical stuff, it’s about the fundamentals.
Don’t worry we’ll go over some of the important tech aspects but I don’t want you to leave from here feeling like you just took a course on C++ programming.
The easy way to find out what SEO stands for is to just do a Google search for “seo definition.”
The screenshot above shows you the top 5 pages that were ranking for that particular keyword at the time of this writing.
They (for lack of a better term) optimized their content to rank for those keywords or at least a variation of it.
By definition this post is in competition with all those pages and as you can clearly tell, they all outrank me.
SEO therefore is simply everything you do to improve your chances of ranking as a top result on search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.
To be honest, the goal is simply to get higher rankings on Google since it dominates over 90% of internet search results.
People who search for something on Google usually have their minds made up on what it is they want.
They know what they’re looking for.
The whole point of search engine optimization is to position your blog in front of those people so you can increase your visibility, your traffic, your brand authority, your sales and so on.
SEO exists simply because search engines always want to make sure they give their visitors relevant content based on what they’re searching for.
If they can provide relevant results then more people can rely on their platforms and more people can come back to them.
That’s the reason why they have different criteria they expect you to meet in order for you to rank higher.
We’ll take a look at some of those ranking factors later but for now understand the whole purpose of SEO is for you to eventually get to the top of page 1 or at least close to it.
It is a means to make sure that people in your target audience can find your content.
YOUR BLOG IS A SEARCH ENGINE!
Well not in the same sense of a Google powerhouse but the functionality and the goals are similar.
People come to your blog in need of solutions – they come for your content.
If you provide them with excellent content, they’ll come back for more and they’re more likely to purchase from you or recommend your blog to other people.
All of that leads to more exposure and more growth.
Your criteria therefore is to follow all of the principles that allow you to create quality content.
The goal as I will keep reiterating throughout this post is to help your audience.
That’s no different from what the search engines are trying to accomplish.
The Importance of SEO for Bloggers
So why does this matter anyway?
1 - Organic (Targeted) Traffic
Organic traffic is the opposite of paid traffic.
This is traffic that comes to you from the search engines for free.
Why is it important?
Because the higher your organic traffic is, the more relevant your content is to your audience.
2 - Trust, Credibility & Authority
Sites that rank higher on the search engines typically have a higher authority.
As bloggers, our goal is to build more trust and credibility with our visitors. SEO can help you accomplish that.
The higher rankings also help your audience recognize you as a leader in your niche.
Remember you need to build trust for both your visitors and the search engines as well.
3 - Edge Over Your Competitors
4 - Improves User Experience
SEO is all about the user experience.
Google and all the other search engines always want to give their users the most relevant results.
They all want to make the user happy so they can keep coming back to them.
The search engines accomplish this with the help of SEO.
It’s the one way they can separate poor content from the quality results people want.
If you so happen to be one of those top results then it means you’re likely giving your visitors what they want.
See the next point.
5 - Better Understanding of Your Audience's Needs
No amount of search engine optimization is complete without proper audience analysis.
You need to be able to solve your audience’s problems or at least guide them to the proper solution.
The better you get at understanding your audience’s needs, the more relevant you become and the higher your chances of getting to page 1 of Google.
6 - Higher Conversions
7 - It's Measurable
It is your responsibility to measure the effectiveness of anything you do online.
If you can’t measure your progress, you can’t improve it.
The beauty of SEO is there are so many ways for you to tell what’s working and what isn’t.
As a blogger, you shouldn’t waste your time or effort on anything where you can’t measure your efficiency or your results.
8 - It's FREE
Did I mention it’s free?
Getting your content to the top of search results (or at least close to it) is a win for your audience and certainly for you as well.
And since it’s free traffic, that means it’ll continue to work for you 24/7.
The takeaway is SEO is a strategy you definitely need to take advantage of.
SYSTEM vs STRATEGY
I know I keep referring to SEO for bloggers as a strategy but I really want you to understand the concept so I dug deeper and came across the following definitions.
System: Systems are designed to be a “One size fits all“.
Strategy: “A Calculated Course of Action to Overcome Problems Created by Constantly Changing System”.
Funny enough I found those definitions on a gambling site so I’m sure you may have your reservations but I think it’s only fair that I give credit where credit is due.
But gambling aside and poor use of the word “problem”, the definitions are applicable to SEO and here is how:
The systems a.k.a the Search Engines and their algorithms will always change but SEO in itself does not.
What the search engines are doing isn’t a problem.
They want to give us content that matches what we’re searching for and it’s what we expect to get all the time.
So as long as the search engines continue to exist you will always need to optimize your content (The strategy).
The only thing that changes within your strategy is your course of action – The tactics.
YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO BEAT THE SYSTEM!
(Sorry for the all caps but just wanted to make that point clear.)
If you understand how the system works, the strategy you can use and how to apply the different tactics then you my friend will crush this SEO thing.
Question is do you need to know and implement all the tactics?
Maybe, maybe not.
But let me ask you this, Do you have the time to learn and implement every single one of them?
Aha! Now something is going on in your mind.
The answer lies in the 80/20 rule.
20% of your efforts should account for 80% of your results.
Don’t worry we’ll take a look at some of the important ranking factors but I wanted you to understand what the strategy is all about.
How Search Engines Work (The Simplified Version)
We’ve already spent a lot of time talking about search engines and how they help rank your site.
It’s also important for you to understand exactly how they work.
Like what happens behind the scenes.
I’ll spare you too many technical details here but I think it’s important you at least have some general idea as to what happens every time you try to get your content to rank higher.
Here’s how the process works in a nutshell:
- The search engine sends out its web crawlers (“spiders”) to crawl the internet.
- Once they get to your site, they scan and analyze your content to see what your blog is about.
- That information is then sent back to the search engine who determines where to rank your site based on relevancy.
Long story short if you want to rank higher, you need to please both your audience AND the search engines.
I’ll show you how in the following sections.
White Hat vs Black Hat SEO
The strategies you use to optimize your content can be classified into 2 different categories:
- The things that are approved and okay for you to do (White Hat SEO)
- Strategies that will eventually get your site penalized (Black Hat SEO)
- What is White Hat SEO?
White Hat SEO refers to Google approved website SEO strategies.
These are strategies that are aimed primarily at helping your audience first.
They maintain the integrity of your blog and bode well with the search engines.
- What is Black Hat SEO?
Black Hat SEO is the complete opposite.
They go against the search engine guidelines and are basically attempts to trick them for higher rankings.
I am 100% certain you’re going to do your best to improve your search rankings but I shouldn’t have to tell you there’s no point trying to beat the algorithm.
The penalty you’ll receive isn’t worth it at all.
Trying to break the rules or beat the system won’t get you anywhere. Period.
The 3 Things You Need to Boost Your Site's Rankings
Now that you understand the difference between white hat SEO vs black hat SEO, let’s take a look at what you need to focus on to give your site the boost it deserves.
There are hundreds of different search engine ranking factors and Google has certainly done its best to hide them from us as much as they can.
We can spend our time digging into all of them but at the end of the day it all boils down to 3 simple things:
These are often referred to as “The 3 Pillars of SEO”.
The combination of all 3 pillars basically tells the search engines you’re good at what you do and you know what you’re talking about.
It’s a win for all the parties involved i.e. you, your audience & the search engines.
Now of course there are different factors you’ll need to leverage all 3 pillars but for the sake of simplicity, here’s sort of a broad view of what you need to focus on:
- Find out your audience’s needs. (Keyword Research)
- Optimize the content you create. (On Page SEO)
- Promote your content and your blog. (Off Page SEO)
On Page SEO: refers to all of the elements you can control on your website to help optimize your content and improve your rankings.
This includes things such as your titles, meta descriptions, site speed, proper use of headings (H1, H2, etc), keywords and so on.
Here’s an excellent On Page Checklist.
We’ll take a look at KEYWORDS in the upcoming section.
Off Page SEO: refers to the actions taken outside of your website to help you rank higher.
Some examples include guest blogging, link building and social media.
Here’s an excellent Guide to Off-Page Search Engine Optimization.
We’ll take a look at BACKLINKS later on in this post.
SEO For Bloggers: The Importance of Keywords
Keywords could make or break your blog. They’re really that important.
If you don’t understand how to select the right keywords, all of your SEO efforts will be in vain.
This matters most when you’re a new blogger and are trying to get more visibility.
Let’s take a look at what they are.
What are Keywords?
Keywords are the phrases or terms people search for on the internet.
Every single time you search for something on Google, you’re typing up keywords.
As a blogger, these are basically the questions your target audience is asking.
That means it’s your responsibility to figure out what those questions or problems are and provide answers for your audience.
For example if you are interested in blogging, which I know you are, then you’d probably search for things like:
- How do I launch my blog?
- What is Affiliate Marketing?
- How do I make money blogging?
- Or the reason why you’re here, what is SEO?
Those are all examples of keywords.
The term “keyword” could refer to a single word or as in the case of the examples above, an entire sentence or a string of words.
So if you searched for the term “blog”, that would count as 1 keyword and “how to start a blog” would also count as a single keyword.
Let’s take a look at the difference between both.
Short-Tail vs Long-Tail Keywords
Short-Tail (or Broad) Keywords usually contain 3 words or less. They’re not specific.
So using our previous example, the term “blog” would be a short tail keyword.
Long-Tail Keywords are longer phrases that are more specific.
“How to start a blog” is an example of a long tail keyword.
The difference is long-tail keywords are a direct reflection of the user’s intent.
They tell us exactly what that person is looking for.
Let’s continue with our blogging example:
- How to start a blog
The first one doesn’t really give us any indication of what they’re looking for.
Sure it could be blogging related but what exactly do they want to know about a blog.
The 2nd keyword tells us exactly what they want to do.
That person is interested in starting a blog.
Now take a look at the following example:
- “How do I start a blog and make money online?”
There’s no mistaking what that person is looking for.
Which option is better?
Should you target long-tail or short-tail keywords?
Before you jump to a conclusion, I’ll tell you the answer is both… in the long run.
The real question you should be asking is “What keywords should I target as a new blogger?”
If you’re just getting started, your focus should be on the long-tail keywords.
Here are the reasons why:
- They’re more specific and accurately reflect what the people in your niche are looking for.
- They have higher conversion rates
- There’s less(er) competition for those keywords. (at least relatively speaking)
As your blog grows and you gain more authority, you can choose to mix in both short-tail and long-tail keywords.
How do you find Keywords?
Keyword Research is a major component of what makes your blog relevant.
Instead of struggling to come up with new ideas, all you need to do is find the questions your target audience is already asking and provide answers or solutions for them.
There are 3 main ways for you to find keywords:
1 - Keyword Tools
2 - Ask Your Audience
You can ask your audience exactly what it is they want to hear from you.
There’s no better resource than a direct response.
Your blog itself is an excellent source of keyword research – the comments section, emails to & from your subscribers, etc.
3 - Competitor Analysis
The beauty of having a new blog is you already have others who have done the research for you.
Take a look at the topics other established bloggers have covered and create even higher quality content.
The goal is to find a post they’re already ranking for, rewrite it and make it even better using your own voice.
This is what’s known as “The Skyscraper Technique“.
The idea being if you can create something that’s better than what’s already out there, then you have a better chance of ranking even higher in the search engines.
Your goal with all of those strategies is to find long-tail keywords with a good amount of monthly traffic and less competition.
There’s still quite a bit of legwork that goes into optimizing your content for higher SEO rankings but finding a list of valuable keywords is a step in the right direction.
No single source or keyword tool is outright perfect.
Often times you’ll need a combination of two or more to get a detailed analysis and a better understanding of which keywords you should go for.
For a more in-depth guide to keywords and keyword research, see my Definitive Guide to Keyword Research.
SEO For Bloggers: The Importance of Backlinks
Backlinks are another essential aspect of SEO.
They help build authority within your niche and are also a good indicator of trust.
It’s time to take a look at what they are and how much weight they actually hold.
What are Backlinks?
Backlinks are links from one website to another.
Your goal is to get other relevant sites to link back to your blog (a.k.a inbound links).
The accumulation of all those backlinks help improve your site’s authority which in turn helps with search engine optimization.
Why are Backlinks important in SEO?
Search engines like Google love (quality) backlinks because it helps them determine which sites should rank higher for any particular keyword
That’s all thanks to “Link Juice” – The ability for one site to pass value or equity to another site.
Every time a site links back to you it is essentially passing on a vote of confidence.
The higher the authority of that site, the higher the vote of confidence.
The juice flows from one site to another.
Think of it this way:
Let’s say you applied for a new job and they asked you for some letters of recommendation.
Sure you could get your fellow coworker to vouch for you but a letter from your previous manager would likely hold more value.
Now imagine if you had 5 excellent letters from 5 previous managers. How much more weight will they carry?
The higher the quality and the number of referrals, the more value they hold
That’s how backlinks work.
Search engines use backlinks to help determine your blog’s importance and value.
And it’s not just for the search engines only.
Backlinks also provide value to your audience.
For example, if someone is reading a post you wrote about the “best running shoes” and you just happened to have a brand like Nike or Adidas link back to it, that’ll be a HUGE vote of confidence for you.
Or say you write a guest post for a higher authority site within your niche with a link back to your blog.
It creates a great user experience because it’s pointing them to extra information that’s relevant to what they’re looking for.
Keep in mind user experience works both ways.
You might be thinking “I don’t want to link to so many other sites and pass the juice on to them“.
Well before you consider doing that, you need to remember these 2 things:
- User experience is about the user, not you.
- Linking to other blogs could eventually lead to more opportunities for backlinks to your blog.
When you write a post about something, it makes sense to link to other content or material you may not have covered.
The person reading that post will appreciate it.
I’m sure you’re worried about losing a potential customer or a repeat visitor but if they loved your content, they’ll come back.
If they don’t, truth is that person wasn’t part of your following.
That’s totally okay. It happens and is the natural cycle of any business.
It’s still your duty to present them with the best content possible.
Same applies for other bloggers.
People appreciate it when you link to their blog.
Yes you’re passing on more link juice to them but when that happens it also opens up the possibility for them to link back to you in a natural way and so on.
Wouldn’t you be happy if people linked back to your blog?
Then do the same.
Build healthy relationships with your audience and your fellow bloggers.
What Makes a Good Backlink?
There’s a long standing debate as to whether you should focus on the quantity or quality of your backlinks.
The short answer is you need to create some sort of balance between both.
Quantity and Quality are equally as important when they work in tandem.
There are legitimate arguments to be made for both sides but unfortunately they’re too lengthy to cover in this post.
If you’re interested in finding out which one matters more then read this post. (<– that’s one more backlink to that site).
Here are some of the characteristics of a good (high quality) backlink:
- High(er) Domain Authority
- Directs Traffic
- Non Reciprocal (exchanging links is frowned upon)
- Social Media Signals
- In content (i.e. within the main content area of the post or page)
Ideally you want any sites that are linking back to you to have all of those qualities.
Realistically there’s only so much control you can have over what other bloggers decide to do.
Backlinks are an example of Off-Page SEO which means your primary focus should be on creating awesome content that people are willing to share and link back to.
How do you get High Quality Backlinks?
This is another extremely lengthy subject on its own and to be fair to you, I don’t want to cover it haphazardly.
So please forgive me if I don’t go into much detail here, at least for now.
However I decided to include this section for one very, very important reason:
PLEASE AVOID ANY SHADY OR UNNATURAL LINK BUILDING TECHNIQUES!
Once again all of those things are a waste of time and the penalties you’ll face are totally not worth the effort.
You should avoid Black hat SEO at all costs.
There are some excellent ways you can go about getting high quality backlinks – Guest posting, the skyscraper technique, high quality, in-depth posts, and so on.
They still come down to all those key steps we looked at earlier:
- Research your audience’s needs
- Understand how to optimize the content for your audience and the search engines
- Create high quality content
- Promote your content
Don’t make the process anymore complicated than that.
Worthy read: How to Get High Quality Backlinks
Other Important Google Ranking Factors
No one knows all of the criteria Google uses to rank different websites.
As I mentioned earlier, most of it is kept secret and I’m simply going to assume it’s for good reason.
We’ve already taken a look at 2 key factors: Keywords and Backlinks.
Here are a few others you need to keep in mind:
- Site Security (Https)
Https is important because it keeps your site secure and protects your visitors’ information.
I’m sure you wouldn’t recommend anything that was unsafe to your audience. Neither do the search engines.
Nobody likes a slow loading site.
You don’t like it, your audience doesn’t, the search engines certainly do not either.
- Mobile Friendliness
Over 80% people access the internet on mobile devices and over 40% of online transactions happen on mobile.
Chances are you’re reading this on your phone or some sort of mobile device.
You can’t ignore mobile responsiveness.
- Image Optimization
Huge image files take up space on your website and could potentially slow it down which of course will only impact you negatively.
Make sure your images are well optimized.
- Social Signals
Google especially loves content that is well shared across different social media platforms.
The key therefore is making sure you have content that is worth sharing AND making it easy for people to share.
- Overall User Experience
The overall user experience is very important.
If people aren’t spending enough time on your site or they’re quickly navigating away, it could be an indication that something is wrong.
Google uses the following factors to determine rankings and a positive user experience:
- Dwell time (the actual length of time spent on your site)
- Bounce rate (the percentage of people who leave your site after viewing only one page)
- Click Through rate (the percentage of people who saw one of your pages in the search results and actually clicked on the link.)
- Domain Age and Authority
Older sites tend to rank higher if they’re well optimized and so do sites with a higher Domain Authority.
What all of that that implies is it may take some time before your new blog gets to page 1.
But that’s also dependent on your niche and the quality of the content that’s sitting at the top of the search results.
That’s why it’s important for you to start working on SEO right away.
What is Domain Authority in SEO?
Domain Authority (DA) is a ranking score developed by Moz that measures the likelihood of a site to rank high on the Seach Engine Result Pages (SERPs).
The score ranges from 1 – 100.
The higher the score, the higher your ability to rank.
Typically a DA between 40-50 (or less) is considered average, 51 – 60 is considered good and DAs over 60 are considered excellent.
That’s the reason why you want link juice from sites with a higher DA than yours.
But remember achieving a high(er) DA score shouldn’t be your only goal.
- Optimized Content
No need beating on a dead horse.
By now you should already understand the importance of quality content.
Needless to say, Quality content is king.
Best SEO Plugins (for WordPress)
If your blog isn’t on WordPress (which I recommend it should be) then these plugins may not be applicable to you.
A few things about these plugins:
- You don’t need all of them. One will do just fine.
- There are paid options available. If you’re just getting started, a free plugin will do just fine.
- Using any one of these plugins doesn’t guarantee you’ll rank higher.
Okay, let me repeat that last point again.
Using any one of these SEO plugins does NOT guarantee you’ll automatically rank higher.
There’s always been this huge misconception that SEO plugins will immediately solve all your problems.
These tools are only meant to serve as guides and to help show you different things you can do to optimize your content.
It doesn’t mean you need to obsess with every single checkbox or that a green light automatically means you’ll get higher rankings.
Remember you’re creating content for people like you and I.
Not for machines.
Without further ado, here are the best SEO plugins for WordPress:
- Rank Math
- All in One SEO Pack
- Broken Link Checker
- The SEO Framework
- All In One Schema Rich Snippets
Yoast is by far the most popular and in my opinion the best of all 6.
It’s actually what I currently use on this blog and is my recommended SEO plugin.
Let me Help You build the Blog You
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How to Keep Track of Your SEO Performance
Now that you understand what SEO is and all the different things you can do to improve your search rankings we need to figure out how to keep track of everything.
I did mention after all that one of the most important aspects of SEO is that it’s measurable.
I’m also going to keep this part short and simple for you: Use Google Analytics (GA).
Google Analytics is Google’s FREE web analytics service that allows you to keep track of all of your blog’s traffic.
In my opinion it’s the only SEO performance tool you need to analyze your web traffic – especially if you’re a one man team.
I’m sure some “SEO Experts & Gurus” will cringe after reading that last statement.
I know there are hundreds of tools you can use to monitor your website’s analytics but my best tip for any beginner or anyone for that matter is to keep things simple.
Simple yet effective.
Reality is any tool you decide to use is only as good as the quality of your content.
You can download all of them or pay for premium products but if your content is horrible, none of that will matter.
You already have enough on your plate as it is.
Why do you need 10 different tools that do the same thing?
Google Analytics alone will suffice to monitor your site’s SEO performance and give you all the data you need.
Final Thoughts on SEO for Bloggers
Learning about SEO and all the different things you can do to improve your blog’s rankings isn’t a one time thing.
If you want to maintain your visibility within the search engines you need to adapt to any changes that happen over time.
All the information and tips you learned today are meant to help guide you in the right direction.
You shouldn’t ignore SEO at any point during your blogging journey.
Your new blog may not rank today but you need to start laying the foundation for eventual success.
The most important takeaway is You Need to Create High Quality Content.
Not because you’re trying to please the search engines but ultimately because you want to create content that your audience enjoys and will be willing to share.
That’s the whole point of SEO.
I hope you found this Guide to SEO for Bloggers useful and I hope it helps you create amazing content.
Learn, experiment, get some results and restart the cycle all over again.
Maybe one day we’ll be competing against each other for that number 1 spot on Google.
What aspect of your SEO are you going to work on today?
Let me know in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions on SEO for Bloggers
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.
It is the process of optimizing your blog or website so it can rank higher within search results.
SEO helps you get to the top of a search query for any particular keyword(s).
Bloggers use SEO to help improve their search engine rankings.
It is a means for them to create content that their audience enjoys so they can drive quality traffic back to their blogs and increase their conversions.
The higher you rank on the search engines, the more likely people are to click over and visit your blog.
The number 1 goal for any SEO friendly blog is to write high quality posts.
Simply put, your focus should be on solving any problems within your target niche.
You can use the following 3 steps to ensure your blog is SEO friendly:
- Find what your audience needs (Keyword Research)
- Optimize the content you create (On Page SEO)
- Promote your content (Off Page SEO)
Yes it is.
Blogging is good for SEO because it allows you to create relevant content and it is a good way to provide solutions to your customers’ needs.
Ideally your posts should be between 1500 – 2000 words long.
The longer the post, the better.
Longer, in-depth posts generally tend to rank higher on search engines.
It’s also important to note that the content of your posts needs to be relevant to what people are searching for.
Don’t create lengthy posts just for the sake of it or fill them with fluff.