There are a lot of misconceptions about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on the internet, with one expert claiming one thing and a different guru claiming the opposite on how to improve SEO. It is easy to get caught up in the confusion, so I want to set out and provide some general guidelines that will fit almost any blog post.
For this article, I won’t talk about site speed (which is very important but deserves its own topic). Additionally, I won’t talk about content- or marketing-specific things like keyword targeting (to speak to the right users), voice and tone, or user engagement. This will be a technical, web development perspective and a good starting point to build your SEO strategy while meeting minimum requirements.
For this article, we’ll pretend that we’re writing for Cyberdyne Systems, a computer software and hardware firm (and definitely not associated with building The Terminator). Without further ado, let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- SEO Plugins
- Choosing your Keywords (Keyphrase)
- Content – What Should I Include?
- At least one image
- Alt Tags and Images
- The Real Secret to Improve SEO
Sorry everyone, but in this post I won’t be comparing SEO plugins. You’ve read those articles a million times and it’s very opinionated, so the answer is going to change from person to person. I want to note that it is a very very good idea to have an SEO plugin, as that can handle a lot of the routine, fine-detail items. I primarily use Yoast SEO (not an affiliate link, I use the free version) and have had some good success with Rank Math SEO (again, not an affiliate link). Personally I’m starting to lean away from Yoast since they tend to add a lot of notices to the WordPress admin and it feels spammy, but that’s a widespread problem with WordPress plugins right now.
Choosing your Keywords (Keyphrase)
Every article should be about a central topic – sometimes it’s about three or four (which is fine), but there should be a simple search term that someone might put in a search engine to find your article. This means it should be broad enough to fit into multiple searches, but specific enough that only people looking for the content or related content would come across it. Generally keywords aren’t as important as they used to be for search engines, but in any SEO plugin you’re able to set a keyword and it can certainly help with proper indexing, so we’re going to cover it.
There’s a common trend in blogging where someone sets out to write an article about a keyword. This typically results in a bad article. Instead, write about something related to your topic. For our example scenario, if our entire blog is about computers then having “computer” be our keyword is redundant and obvious. Instead, “workstation computer” is more specific to the article.
Tips and Things to Avoid:
- Your keyphrase for an article should ideally be specific to that article. Remember the example “workstation computer” instead of the more generic “computer” – having fifty articles with the exact same keyword on your site doesn’t help your search ranking at all.
- Your keyphrase should be short – no more than a few words or a phrase. This is the term that someone might Google, so view it from your reader’s perspective – would they search for something in a formal way or a conversational way?
- Example: If we’re writing about the central processing unit and how to dissipate the heat that it generates, it’s very unlikely the people we’re talking to would be completely new at the topic. Therefore, a keyphrase “central processing unit heat dissipation” will be much less effective than “CPU heat dissipation”.
- Have you used the keyphrase before? If so, try to find an alternate (but related) keyphrase when possible. Re-using keywords isn’t the cardinal sin plugins might make you think, but again, your keyword should be pretty specific to the article.
- Is your brand name in the keyphrase? Remove it. Unless the brand name is part of the official name of the product, like “Diet Coke with Lime” (which is gross), then it doesn’t need to be there, because both users and search engines will already know you’re publishing about it.
Keywords are a website’s best friend and worst enemy – we’ll cover it again further down in the article.
Content – What Should I Include?
The million-visitor question: What does my blog article need?
The answers will vary depending on who you ask, what you’re writing about, and what content you’re providing. However, there are a few key things you should always try to include in an article:
- An engaging title, probably using your keyphrase.
- At least 300 words of written copy. This isn’t much – the average native speaker of a language reads around 200 to 300 words per minute.
- At least one image, which will be used as the featured image of your blog article. More images are great so long as they help to improve the article – an image every three or four paragraphs is a good rule of thumb.
- Subheadings. We’ll cover this a bit more below.
- Categories, Tags, etc.
- Related content links
- An engaging ending with a call to action.
Let’s get a little more specific with each.
Writing a good Title
It’s often hard to spot a good title, but very easy to spot a bad one. A good title alone can make or break your article, because regardless of what we’re told about judging a book by its cover, the quality of your title will often decide whether or not a user even views the page.
Out of the two options below, which title is more engaging?
|Cyberdyne Systems Home Security coming in October
|Cutting-edge home security systems are ready – are you?
The second immediately draws the user in, and it pulls a bit of a sneaky tactic in that it hints at information, but doesn’t outright give it away. Another example:
|Cyberdyne Systems Receives Military Grant after SHOT Show Performance
|What our Armed Forces had to say about Cyberdyne Battlefield Technologies
The first instance gives away all the user really needs. The second hints at something interesting and tells the user what to expect when they view the rest of the article, but doesn’t give it away.
This can very easily go too far. We’re all aware of clickbait, which is the scourge of the internet and ruins user experience. While it has been shown to drive traffic, it’s also been shown to increase bounce rates, so more users are getting to your article but less of them are reading it.
If you ever find yourself writing an article with a title along the lines of “Ten Wacky Things About…” or “Our Top Twenty Favorite…” or “You won’t believe what happened when we…” then stop. Step back. Look in the mirror. That is the path to the Dark Side.
At Least 300 Words
This seems like we’re going back to grade school where papers needed to be five paragraphs with five sentences each – an arbitrary number, and in some cases it will feel like it’s asking for filler. However, adding content just to pad an article length is worse than no content at all. That said, there’s almost always a place where you can add 300 words.
- If your article is text-heavy, this shouldn’t be a problem, so you’re probably golden.
- If your article is about an event, have some information about the event. What are some of the activities? Are there certain speakers attending? If it’s a webinar, what sorts of things does it cover and who should be interested?
- If your article is about a new software version, include patch notes. Talk about what is different or new. Include a bit of sales copy to draw in new customers.
- If your article is is a video, then add supplementary information OR a text transcript of the audio. Keep in mind that some readers may be hard of hearing, and a text transcript could be the only way they’re able to absorb your content.
As a side note about the text transcript for audio, Amazon Web Services has a fantastic tool called Amazon Transcribe (clever, huh?). It can transcribe a single voice or even multiple voices and tries to separate them. It is significantly cheaper than human transcription, but it is worth checking the text afterwards. Computers can and do make mistakes.
Bonus – Text to Speech
For extra credit (and a really good overall look), look into an automatic text-to-speech engine. Amazon has a service for this as well called Amazon Polly. There’s also a service called Speechelo which I haven’t tried yet, but seems pretty promising.
At least one image
You already saw the case where an image in the middle of text was helpful (Thanks, Darth Vader!) but most blogs will use a featured image to some extent. These are very important and can appear in search results, often appear on your page, and appear when your content is shared on social media.
There is no real “ideal” image dimension. For most clients and sites I build I try to use a 16:9 aspect ratio (so 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels high, as an example). Whatever you go with, it is a good idea to keep the image size and aspect ratio about the same.
By the way – animated .gif images aren’t the best choice for your cover image. They have their place, but use them sparingly.
An Important Note: Take your content width into consideration. If your site only displays content at a maximum of 1100 pixels wide, then a 1920×1080 image will never really be used. You can create a custom image size and use that, but the browser will resize the image to the best of its ability. Don’t upload huge images straight from the camera. Even phone cameras can easily take pictures 4000 pixels wide, which is a lot to load. Use a free editor like GIMP or a paid one like Photoshop to resize images. There are also a number of online image editors which can do the trick.
You’ll also see these called “H” tags, Header tags, “H𝑥” (where 𝑥 is a number), etc. These are the titles and subtitles that help organize your content both for the reader and the search engine. Each H1, H2, and so forth can best be visualized as a level in a folder. Here’s the example structure for an article about how to build your own PC:
You’ll note that each page only has one H1 tag – the title. You’ll also notice that the H𝑥 tags don’t necessarily have the keyphrase in all of them. This is because keyword stuffing is bad. Adding the keyword or term wherever you can makes it difficult to read and also can trigger your page to be marked as junk or spam. Taking a line from Jurassic Park, where they were clearly talking about adding keywords everywhere:
Categories, Tags, etc. (Taxonomies)
This is a big area with a lot of conditional statements, but in short, don’t abuse these. Keep the number of categories, tags, and custom taxonomy terms to a minimum – ten should really be your absolute maximum. Also, be sure to use taxonomies in a consistent way. Generally, I tell people to think of Categories and Tags like so:
- Category is, in a broad stroke, what area of content will be covered.
- On some sites this might mean the type of content – “Video”, “White Paper”, “Tutorial”, etc.
- On others, this is a general area – “Web Development”, “Video Production”, “Code Tips”, etc.
- Tags are describing the content on the page. Tags for this page could be “SEO”, “Search Engine Optimization”, “Writing for the Web”, etc.
Related Content Links
One of the best ways to help your site improve its SEO score is to cross-link to a related article on the same domain (your website). If you’re writing an article about 3D Printing and you’ve already written an article about which filament to use in 3D Printers, then link to that if it fits with the flow. It will help both your new and old article, and is just a good idea. Try to keep this to a reasonable limit – in most cases there’s no situation where a page should have ten links away from it in the content, and remember that any link you add to your content gives the user the opportunity to leave or to view something else.
An Engaging Ending or Call to Action
So you’ve written your article, it looks great, everyone you’ve shown so far loves it, and you’re ready to publish. Check one thing – does the article just sort of… end? If so, you have something to improve.
At the end of each article, you should have some sort of call-to-action. Try to engage the user by asking a question. Offer the user a free download or white paper. Give the reader something to think about. Link to a contest submission. Mention the comment section. There are countless opportunities to improve your blog posts with simple endings that don’t take too much effort but return huge payoffs. Brainstorm with your team (or even talk to yourself, nobody will know) for more ideas and try them out – the worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work and you’ve lost nothing because of it.
Alt Tags and Images
In WordPress (and the internet as a whole), alongside the actual image in your site is space for metadata – the image title and something called an “alt” tag. While the title is just as it sounds, it’s primarily for your own purposes and doesn’t need to be entered.
However, an alt tag is increasingly important for images that you load into blogs.
Alt tags are also misused, and some of the SEO tools available will give you incorrect advice and say that you should include your keyword in the tag. This is not true, and is missing the entire point of an alt tag.
Alt tags are primarily used for two reasons:
- To describe the image to search engines (important note on this below)
- To give people using a screen reader context of an image
While in some cases it’s acceptable to add an alt tag that has your keyword in it, it’s not advisable unless that keyword directly fits in the image. You should focus on having your alt text describe the image only – let’s do some examples below.
Alt Tag Example #1
Let’s say we’re writing an article about 3D Printing in general, and it’s going to be on the Siemens Digital Industries Software Solid Edge blog. We have an image of a 3D printer in action which we want to include:
What should our alt text be?
|Solid Edge 3D Printing Capabilities
|A 3D printer that is printing a file generated by Solid Edge
|A 3D Printer in the process of applying the first layer of a print
Note that even the middle option is less than optimal, because Solid Edge isn’t in the picture. We want to literally describe the image.
Alt Tag Example #2
Now, we’re writing about Simulation Analysis in the Solid Edge blog. We have a screenshot of the image that has run simulation analysis:
What should our alt text be?
|Solid Edge Professional 2021
|Simulation Analysis in Solid Edge
|An example of simulation analysis capabilities in Solid Edge, showing where certain points have the most strain on them.
In our “Best” option, we manage to fit both simulation analysis and Solid Edge in the picture, as well as describing what the image offers so a user gets the full impact.
Alt Tag Example #3
Let’s say we’re wrapping up a blog post and just want something fun at the end, so we add the following:
What should our alt text be?
|Equally the Worst
|WordPress SEO Tips
|A black and white cat named Oreo stealing a slice of pizza.
We have two terrible options here – leaving an empty alt tag can hurt your SEO score. Additionally, shoving a keyword that has no relation to the picture isn’t what alt tags are for. Instead, we go with a full description, so we write it as if we were describing the image to the reader.
The Real Secret to Improve SEO
If you need to improve SEO, there are a million ways to do it (as we’ve just discussed). They’re fine and certainly help, but they take a back seat to the single most important rule to keep in mind when you write content:
It’s that simple. It’s also future-proof. Google will change its search algorithms on the fly and never tell you what changed, so one day your brilliant alt tag cramming game might be useless. What will never be downgraded is the quality of your content. Write about the topic. Write with important, useful information. Keep in mind that not everything has to lead to an immediate sale or call to action. Just sit down, write the best article that you would want to read, and try it as your first draft. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
There’s always more to be added here, and remember that this is from a technical standpoint of a WordPress Developer (who has worked on a wide variety of sites), but it doesn’t always reflect the SEO strategy you or your brand may use. This guide is also blog-agnostic, so it applies the same to someone with a home cooking blog all the way up to enterprise-level content.
It’s likely you as content creators and experts have additional information – if so, comment below and we can add it to the guide (see what I did there? Call to action, callback to before. Twists on twists in this page, got a lot of layers, lots going on).
Have any questions or comments about this article, or ways you think it can be improved?
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