Regina here. Desperately hoping I can make "#SearchEngineSaturday" a real thing, because that's what I want to talk about today . . . and it's a Saturday. And honestly, what I really want to do is get at the most important facet of search engine optimization (SEO) for bloggers >> it's all based on humans >> and spending our lives worrying about techie, crawly, spider-y, secret robots who arbitrarily rank our sites is probably a waste of time. Allow me to expand this point: I hope someone who knows me just laughed in their head at that and said, "Of course you're going to expand Regina. You always talk too much. I mean, share such lovely, long details with us."
So yes, I am going to share the 10 things that over time will make the biggest difference for your blog's SEO, but in order to do that, I think it is best to explain what major search engines like Google are doing and how it's really about humans. P.S. I will not be using ANY techie words in this post. This is a post you could share with your grandmother, or your 8-year old, or your awkward Uncle Phil who wants to start making money with the Internets but doesn't even understand what the Internets is . . . are . . . is/are . . . I don't know which one to use there.
What are search engines really doing?
Search engines (such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo!) are providing a service to humans. They attempt to go out into Internet Land and discover all the pages available. These pages can be actual website pages (like an About, Bio, or Contact page) that give specific information or they can be your individual blog posts. Search engines like to have a record of all the pages possible so that when a human comes along and searches for a specific term, the search engine has a large amount of pages to pull from and show as results.
If you used a search engine to search for instructions on how to change a tire, and you got back results on the best new tires you should buy, or someone's top 18 pictures of their tire swing, would you get a bit annoyed? Further, if you kept getting unhelpful results from that specific search engine, would you eventually switch to a different search engine to get your answers?
Well, as a company providing a service, Google knows that it needs to give you the best results possible in order to keep your attention and your business. Each search engine seeks to give out the results that will most delight you, a human.
What delights you as a human? Wild guess here: pictures, simple instructions, stuff that actually answers your question, stuff that's well organized, content that is well written, content that includes the phrases and titles you actually searched for . . . say I'm getting warm here.
How do search engines rank sites then?
Since search engines aren't actually human, but are trying to imitate human behavior and logic, the creators of search engines have to create guidelines for their software to help give the most human search results.
Google, Bing, and other engines are always trying to modify their software to get to the most pleasing results for humans (also on the Internets as algorithms)>> so as a blogger, if you're spending time learning the 200 new factors that affect SEO each time a search engine updates its software, you are focusing on the dew, which is on the leaves, which are on the trees >> and you might be missing the forest you're standing in.
Instead, let's think of search engine software as an imperfect system trying to get closer and closer to what humans like. If you're doing what humans like on your blog, you're headed in the right direction.
Here are the ten factors that will make the biggest difference for your blog . . . because they're what search engines are basing their site ranking process on . . . because they are the things that matter most to humans:
1. Well-Written Content
I know you care about this not only because it affects your blog's SEO, but also because you take pride in your work. Well, search engines care so much about this (and write their software to look for this) because it makes a difference to how much a reader enjoys their search results.
Translation: Write your blog content in a natural, helpful tone. Double check your work. A few errors are okay here and there, but craptacular grammar can easily affect how much people enjoy reading your work. Also, paragraphs that don't make sense or don't flow logically can distract people.
2. Multimedia Content
Us humans love when points are illustrated by photographs or drawings, or available as videos, or downloadable as audio . . . we love options. We love pretty things. We love simple things. Search engines know that their users (humans) will be happier with posts that include multiple forms of media, instead of just text, so search engines show more love to those posts.
Translation: If you are making a point that is explained better through a video, make a video. Provide a main blog post image that lets people know what your post is about. However, don't forget that you can include more images in the body of the post when they relate to your points. For example, I'll casually drop in the image below because it illustrates how much more interesting a blog post with pictures looks than a post that is just text . . . clever girl.
3. Keywords That Make Sense
Humans use keywords all the time. I shall illustrate this point with some extremely real dialogue:
Hey, I ran into James and Regina the other day," says Person 1.
Oh, you mean the crazyblogger with curly hair and her sidekick who always wears red tights and a cape?" says Person 2.
Person 2 used all the underlined keywords to clarify who James and Regina were. Keywords are details that help people classify and verify information. If you completely forgot my name and my sidekick's name, you might search the Internets for "blogger with curly hair and a sidekick in red tights."
Yes, I could have gone with a more relevant example above, but I think we had more fun with this one. The point is: people will pull out and search the keywords and terms that are most memorable or important to them. Google and other search engines know this. They return results that use those keywords naturally.
Translation: You know the people you want to reach with your website. Think of the keywords and the exact phrases they are likely to use when they search for your type of content online. Use those keywords in your post (and in your blog post title and heading--but that's information for another point, coming soon). As an example, this blog post is titled SEO for Bloggers, mainly because I feel that you as a blogger might specifically search that. Sure, you might also search for SEO tips or search engine optimization for blog owners, but I felt my title was a good guess.
4. Content That Engages Readers
Have you ever landed on a website that looked like it was last updated in your year of birth? I know I have, and the Internet wasn't a real, wide-spread thing when I was born . . . so, translation, that's bad. When I land on sites like that, I leave immediately. Hi, my name is Regina, and I'm a shallow Internet snob. And as a snob, I won't stay on sites that aren't engaging. Your design needs to engage and your post content needs to engage. If readers check out mentally after your first paragraph, they're outta there.
Search engines want to show you (as a reader and content consumer) sites that are interesting and that you will spend a lot of time on. They are paying attention to how engaging a blog's content is, they are designing their software to identify interactive, captivating sites more and more.
Translation: Engage your blog readers through great content, images, a logical layout, an easy-to-use site, and your stellar personality and jokes. Your blog's search engine rankings thank you. If you're able to keep people on your site longer than other sites, search engines love you.
5. Links That Lead to Your Blog
Do you want another epic dialogue example to illustrate a point? Of course you do:
Hey, do you know a good store to get corduroy skinny pants from, Bob?" asks some clearly cool person.
Oh yeah, go to Too Regit to Quit, it's a new boutique on South 1st Street," says some other clearly cool person.
What just happened? Old school word of mouth. Well in Internet land, people have these same conversations (where they're recommending a specific entity or resource) through links on their blogs that recommend something or social media platform shares. The social media thing is the last point in this post, but let's address links.
When another website or blog links to your site, search engines take that to mean someone is recommending you. More links means more people think your blog is hot stuff. In our corduroy pants example, if you repeatedly hear of this shop, (epically named) Too Regit to Quit, you would eventually go there.
But, here's the deal: If your successful and popular best friend who has the same taste in clothing recommends a boutique store, that means way more to you than the socially awkward man at the gas station who shouts out the boutique's name while driving off and bumping Ace of Base. No offense Ace, I think I know the lyrics to all your songs, backwards.
Search engines act the same way as you did in this situation, they will take the link/recommendation of reputable blogs as more valuable than the random link from a site that just popped up last week and still seems a bit awkward. And in general, they will take the link/recommendation of a blog in your same space (ex: fashion) as more relevant than a link from something completely unrelated (ex: a toaster oven blog).
Translation: Guest write posts and articles for established blogs in your general industry. These blogs will typically link back to your blog within your guest post. Also, focus on creating content that people will want to share. Build the best metaphorical corduroy skinny pants you can through your blog.
6. Blog Post Titles That Make Sense
If I ask you for your best social media book recommendations, and you tell me about a book titled "The Girl with Yellow Shoes," I will look at you with the what's-in-your-cup-other-than-the-coffee-I-thought-was-there stare. I already feel you're about to tell me something unrelated and annoying. What's interesting though is >> "The Girl with Yellow Shoes" might be the best book on social media ever written . . . but the title of the book would suit me better if it made more sense . . . especially if I only have a limited amount of time available to me to decide on my next social media book.
Google knows that if you wrote an epic post on using MailChimp as an Etsy store owner, you might have naturally included "MailChimp" and/or "Etsy" in your blog post title. But, more importantly, Google knows that if a web searcher searches for "how to use MailChimp for your Etsy store," that person is more likely to click on a blog post titled "MailChimp for Etsy Shops: The Champion's Guide to Awesome Emails" than "This Girl Still Has Yellow Shoes On, It's Weird."
Translation: Title your posts in ways that would cause you to click (if you fit in your ideal blog reader group). Title your posts with keywords that will help people figure out what it's all about. Title your posts in ways that build excitement and accurate expectations.
7. Content That's Long Enough to Really Address a Need
Remember that one time you Googled "SEO for Bloggers" and landed on a post that was only 10 words long? No. You don't. Because it probably never happened. Since you as a human want enough information to actually accomplish your goals (ex: become awesome at blogging, learn how to change your car's oil, create tasty gluten-free desserts, etc.), you probably prefer content that gives you a full picture. This usually requires more than 200 words.
Search engines realize that 2,000 words will give users/searchers a more complete picture of how to do something epic than 500 words. It's based on a human need, and it's translated to how their search engine software treats all the posts in Internet land.
Translation: Use headings, and images, and bullet points to keep your text interesting, but then make sure there is enough text and content to really help and engage people.
8. High-Frequency Content (Also, a Lot of Content)
A friend recently explained to me how he used to start every morning of his life . . . he woke up and grabbed his phone to check the blog of one of his favorite music artists. The days that the music artist posted something were the best days ever. The days the artist hadn't said anything new, were days where he probably searched the web for other interesting content. He was devoted. But, that music artist eventually stopped adding new stuff, and my friend eventually stopped visiting that website.
Frequent posts, and a lot of past posts to browse through, give people the confidence to fall in love. They feel the blogger is around to stay. They feel the blogger is in it for them as the readers.
Search engines know that consistency and options (multiple past posts to choose from) really influence our enjoyment of a site. Therefore, search engines are more inclined to load their top search results with blogs that honor the frequency concept (and also blogs that have a large library of posts).
Translation: Publish new stuff consistently. Search engines love it because people love it. Build trust. Build up your library/archive of past posts that are epic.
9. Blog Post Headings That Make Sense and Organize Your Information
Imagine this post without any of these numbered headings. How would you keep track of what point you were on? Would you finish the article and go back and count to make sure there were actually 10 points as promised? Do the headings also help you know what I'm about to say? Do they help you get mentally prepared?
Your blog's search engine optimization is affected by the headings you choose to include. Do they make sense? Do they have keywords in them? If so, that means your reader will be happier. And as we've said through this post a bagillion times, happy readers is what search engines want to create. You'll never have a reason to use anything but the search engine that consistently delivers useful results.
Translation: Use headings. Organize your content. Do you remember those keywords and phrases you thought of that people might enter into a search engine to find content like yours? Make those words part of your headings.
10. Content That's Popular (on Social Media Platforms)
'Member that corduroy pants example from #5 above? Well, it applies here too. If you see friends, and perhaps even tons of strangers, talking about this one thing/store/blog/item, you'll want to know what it's all about. The term "social proof" means that something has enough attention from Internet land/people to get new people to notice it. When you see that 1,000 people like/share something, you take that more seriously than if 0 or 10 people like it.
Search engines can read the links and content from most social media platforms. They're able to tune in to conversations and see what/who is hot right now. They may return some of those social media posts or Pinterest pins in search results, but they also use the mere existence of all the shares and links to figure out which blogs are the best to return in search results.
Translation: Don't ignore social channels. First, make content and images that are simple to share on social media sites. Provide people with clear buttons and sharing options (ex: the buttons at the bottom of this post before the comments area . . . you can just click on your favorite platform and share). Join social media sites where your readers spend their time and become active. Start conversations about anything interesting. Promote your stuff, promote other stuff you like, socialize with others . . . people will notice that you are there and helpful.
So, how do you feel about SEO for your blog as it relates to human interaction? Are there any areas in which you might incorporate new tactics? I gotta say, it was a bit hard to not use words like "algorithm" and "sitemap" in this post, but my intent was to communicate the foundations of SEO for bloggers in a non-techie way. These are the core concepts you can follow to help your blog get noticed by search engines.
Sure, there are definitely other factors like site speed, clean website code, a mobile-friendly site, and perhaps using a great plugin like the one I use, SEO by Yoast (if you're on WordPress), but the 10 items above are the real places to begin your search engine optimization strategy. Everything stems from how people use/like your site. Speed is important because people are impatient, pictures are important because people like visuals, etc. With every decision you make for your blog, ask not what search engines would like, but what actual humans would like.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most important part of getting traffic to your blog. And that’s doing something meaningful with that traffic. like getting them on your email list. If you want to turn your blog into a business, you’ll need to grow your audience with people who actually engage with you and want to buy from you. And guess what? We’ve created a 5-day email course to teach you exactly how to do that.
Thanks for reading this, you beautiful human, you. Any questions or epic thoughts? Would love to hear them below, because I too am human.