Getting to the front page in the search rankings is a battlefield – it’s a war! The struggle to stay relevant and compete with an ever growing number of competitors requires the right tools and the right approach, especially if you are wondering how to revitalize your existing blog content. How to optimize your blog for SEO seems simple and straightforward, but if you’ve ever tried to use an SEO tool, you will quickly understand that there are no specific guidebooks that can help you every step of the way. Hopefully this post will help fill that knowledge gap.
If you are approaching content from a social media marketing perspective, or from a blogging perspective, today’s podcast is going to really resonate with you because I want to give you a hopefully new and really holistic way of thinking about search engine optimization and therefore the content that either you already have on your site or new content that you are going to blog in the future as part of your content marketing and social media marketing efforts.
You will learn about my own process for optimizing blog content and two invaluable SEO tools that will get you – and your blog – ready for the never-ending and always growing battle.
Before I proceed further, I want to offer you a HUGE disclaimer: I do not consider myself an SEO expert by any means, and if there are any SEO experts reading this, they might be disagreeing with what I say. I am basing this content on my own experiences, learnings, understandings, and holistic analysis. That’s why I’m confident my advice will have a different perspective than a lot of what you see out there.
Understanding Search Engine Optimization
So let’s talk about content. Search engines are what drives traffic. People read emails, people engage with their friends on social media, but people do a heck of a lot of searches.
While one can say that there are more and more searches being done on social media, and more and more searches being done on YouTube, search engines are still there and still as powerful and as relevant as ever. Therefore, when we think about content, we should be thinking about search engines.
I’ll be honest with you: I run a blog, and I myself as a blogger never cared about search engines. I always blogged about content I thought was relevant to my audience – timely content, resourceful content, sometimes content more directly related to my books or speaking events.
Thinking about the content and it’s audience is still the best way to think about it but content does get outdated.
For those of you that want to hear more about this, I did a separate podcast on this topic ‘how fresh is your content‘
Keeping Your Content Fresh
There’s the concept of freshness which includes deletion of completely irrelevant content and you need to do this on a regular basis.
I take a multifaceted or multi-angle approach when I look at the freshness of my content. I choose a holistic approach, if something seems outdated, I revise and refresh it and if it’s still potentially relevant – and there’s still a lot of content that is relevant, believe it or not, from a decade ago – I go through and revise it. But if it’s completely irrelevant because the social network simply doesn’t exist (Foursquare, StumbleUpon and now Google plus), I need to outright delete it.
My other approach is the data-driven approach of looking into my Google Analytics and checking which content drives a lot of traffic and which content doesn’t generate traffic.
I start with the content that isn’t driving a lot of traffic and look at it and go ‘huh, why isn’t this driving a lot of traffic?’
Whenever you publish content on your blog, it’s a roulette wheel, the roulette wheel of the search engines. What content is the search engine going to index for popular search queries? Are you going to end up on the first page or the second page?
This leads to an important question for which there is no easy answer:
Why Does Some Content Perform Better?
There are things you can do to increase your chances of higher search ranking but why does some content outperform and some under-perform? Well, some under-performing content actually competes with good performing content on your website. So, if you’ve blogged about the same thing over and over again, Google is just going to try and find the best one to display in search results if you are trying to target the same keyword.
Part of it is internal competition, part of it is external competition because everybody is doing content marketing now and everyone is trying to outperform all the blog posts that have been written before.
Thus the battle analogy.
The Importance Of Continuously Tweaking Your Blog Posts for SEO
Some content I publish immediately gets a lot of traffic. Others maybe take a few weeks, and others take a few months but after a year, it’s very difficult if you haven’t had a lot of buzz around that content, it’s going to be very difficult to get a lot of traffic coming to your website.
You may have content that people are just not searching for. By tweaking a few keywords here or there or a few things in your post, it’s very easy to start ranking for keywords that people are searching for while keeping your content 99.9% the same. Optimizing your blog for SEO doesn’t necessarily have to take up a lot of your time should you have the right approach.
The fight for search engine visibility is a battle. You are competing against companies that are spending a lot of money on pay per click ads. You’re competing with companies that spend a lot of money on content and a lot of money on search engine optimization. This is something you cannot take lightly, this is the ultimate global battlefield, it’s global war!
Two Essential Tools for the Battle to Optimize Your Blog for SEO
Because of the scale of war that you’ll be battling, I’m going to introduce to you two tools that will be indispensable in the actual implementation of how to optimize your blog for SEO: SEMrush & Yoast.
It all begins with SEMrush. I’m a big fan of SEMrush for helping to improve the SEO of this blog. There’s also MOZ, Ahrefs and others (there’s maybe 10 to 15 different SEO tools out there). Find one that works for you and stick to it.
What I love about SEMrush is it’s extremely comprehensive. It’s very complex but they do offer you a dashboard and a certain amount of automation that allows you to get started very easily. Here is the process I want to introduce to you if you are looking at getting started or revising this process of really ranking for more and more of your content in the search engines.
Before, I blogged purely for the content, not for search engines and I still think that’s the best way to do it. What I recommend here is go back and tweak content for the search engines, retaining 99% of your content. You can do it in as little as 5 or 10 minutes per post.
This is what we call on-site SEO, we’re not talking about off-site in terms of generating backlinks for your content. I’m sticking purely on-site for the foreseeable future because with 1,000+ blog posts, there’s a lot of on-site optimizing I can do.
What Content Does Google Favor?
Let’s take another step back and look at the type of content that Google indexes and prefers to share in top search engine queries results. If you do a little bit of research, you’ll find out about what Google says is good content coming from a good website.
This is the framework Google says ‘if you want to rank for content, you need content in subjects that you are an expert, you’re an authority, and you’re trustworthy in.’
If you’ve been blogging and you’ve gained any sort of visibility in the search engines, you probably have tons of people reaching out to you and saying ‘I’ll provide you free content.’ That’s because your E-A-T is better than theirs.
The Battle For Backlinks
What they’re trying to do is get a backlink from your website. They are trying to improve the SEO of their own blog by using a specific anchor text link in the link back to their own website or to the website of their clients to rank higher for keywords.
I had a conversation with one of my alumni bloggers, Joel Don, who blogged about social business trends, and he said ‘Neal, I’m getting contacted by all these people saying they’ll interview me for free for a blog post, or they want to link to my post, or can I accept the content? What’s going on here?’
It’s all about the fact that it’s a battlefield to rank in the search engines and people are looking for creative ways to get a link on your site.
So let’s get back to E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness). Are you an expert? If you are blogging about a certain topic over a period of time, you would expect that other people recognize that and content creators would link to you.
Getting back to the linking is where we start talking about authority, because when more and more people link to you, that shows authority on the Internet. How many times have you talked about this subject? And how much expertise do you show in your content? This ties into the 1,500 word minimum I have on my blog because if you’re an expert, you:
- Probably have blogged a lot about that content, and
- Within the content, when people go to read it, they are encapsulated, they stay there a long time, they’re very engaged, they’re going from one post on the subject which you are an expert on, to another one of your posts, and these are all metrics that Google is tracking and you can as well in your Google Analytics dashboard.
That’s what gets you seen as an expert and helps define your content’s appearance in the search engines.
Categories Of Content
This is why I take on a number of guest bloggers for different categories of content, each category representing a social media-related subject that a contributor is an expert on. I think I’m currently at 40 content categories. I rank better in some categories than others.
LinkedIn is one that I have good rankings on, which should come as no surprise: I’ve been blogging about LinkedIn for 10 years, I have expertise in that and I think search engines see that. Therefore, in general, something about LinkedIn is going to get better rankings than something about another topic that I just have not blogged, or guest bloggers have not blogged a lot about.
There have been topics that I have tried to build expertise on in order to increase the search engine rankings of this website by bringing in guest bloggers or blogging more about. A case of point is Instagram, or Facebook, or influencer marketing.
If you want to get higher search rankings, you need to be an expert in the subject, obviously. But you need to show your expertise by blogging more, more frequently, with more content pertaining to these keywords and types of category keywords. Over time, Google will undoubtedly notice that you have a certain expertise in that subject.
Once you have expertise and are displaying it in your content, you will slowly be seen as an authority on the subject.
The authority is really when you start to generate backlinks to that content from content creators, from businesses, from other people in social media. That’s not the online or on-site SEO, but the off-site aspects of SEO which we’re going to tackle that at a later stage because I think there’s so much you can do from on-site SEO.
Once you start doing off-site SEO, it can get a little bit fishy, especially if you start to generate backlinks from irrelevant websites, which a lot of SEO services will do. I don’t know how much that’s going to benefit you in the long term.
Outside of the expertise and the authority, we have the trustworthy aspect.
Are people staying on your website for a long time? I think that hopefully will generate greater trustworthiness for you.
When people come to your website are they bouncing around? This also ties into advertising – are you showing those full-screen pop-ups? Are you bombarding readers with advertisements so they can’t see your content?
There are no written rules about SEO, otherwise, everyone’s going to try and dupe Google and all the other search engines. I think from a very holistic and practical perspective, if you think about it, those are things that take away the trustworthiness of your site and of your content. This is something that you’ll want to think about. I believe the trustworthiness aspect is the easiest to build because it relates more to the architecture and structure of your site, what content you display, and how you display it in a “trustworthy” way.
Keyword Research In SEMrush
So how does using SEMrush apply to all of this?
Using SEMrush for the first time can be quite overwhelming. What I recommend is that even if you have done SEO before, start by doing a search for the keywords you already rank for. SEMrush provides you with an easy way to do that.
You may be ranking for keywords, if you haven’t been serious about SEO, that you had no idea about. This is the first step, these are the keywords the Google is saying you are an expert on. So you already have the expertise, you want to leverage that, in fact, you want to make sure you don’t drop in the rankings for those posts by revising posts and tweaking them over time.
From a search engine strategy, this is a no brainer to start with and then to leapfrog off of.
Once you start to do this, you will notice certain categories of your content or certain keywords already have really good search engine rankings for your website. This is where you begin to set up your keywords dashboard.
I currently have 4 different categories of content that I’m trying to rank for because I’m trying not to tackle everything at once and boil an ocean. I tackle this holistically. I want to continue building up my presence and my search engine visibility with all my content and that of my contributors.
I approach this one category at a time, starting with the category I already have a lot of success with.
Keyword Research Analysis
The next thing I do – and once again, this is within SEMrush – I go through and do a keyword research analysis. There are tons of tools that allow you to do this. But when I do the keyword research analysis – and obviously, I’m going to start with the keywords in descending order in terms of what people are looking for – the more popular the keyword, the more competitive it’s going to be to rank for. If there are related, categorized keywords I think that are important for my business to rank for – even if it’s not for a top 3 ranking- I want to try to work my way up the SEO foodchain.
So, I add that to my list of keywords that I don’t currently rank for, but in an ideal world, I should.
I believe my current SEMrush limits me to 3,000 keywords which for 1,000 blog posts is plenty – if I can rank number one for 300 keywords for 300 different blog posts, I’d say that’s awesome! That’s going to generate a lot of business for contributors and myself! That’s the ROI of doing all of this blog post optimization for SEO, right?
If you only have one category, or one type of keyword, or an affiliated set of keywords that you’re trying to rank for, you could do 300 different variations. I try to target 50 keywords per category for starters.
By doing this, you’re going to add a number of keywords to your dashboard. What SEMrush is going to do is provide you a search visibility index number. If you rank number one for all those keywords, you’re going to be at 100%. When you do this, you need to start looking at your competitors. SEMrush gives you a competitors discovery tab that shows you which competitors, on average, rank higher for the same keywords you rank high for.
Some of these are no brainers that you’re going to consider your competitors. Some will be competition you may not have heard of.
Rinse & Repeat To Beat The Competition (But Use Your E-A-T)
In my plan, SEMrush gives you the ability to add 20 competitors, which I feel is more than enough to help optimize my blog for SEO. You will find you’re competing with the same competition over and over again in my experience. This is where you want to put in your competitors and yes, there’s going to be some that you will never be able to compete with but you want to see how you’re doing compared with them. You want to keep up with the Jones’s, look for opportunities where they don’t rank, and if you strategically create authoritative content around those strategic keywords, you just might be able to rank even higher because it’s a keyword that, for whatever reason, your competition overlooked. Remember, this is war, so consider this advice a tactic of guerilla warfare!
Using The Personal Touch In SEO
Interestingly enough, I find that there are very few people that rank high and this, I think is actually an opportunity because, from the trustworthiness perspective, it’s easier for people to build trust rather than a blog post coming from a tools company, or a unknown content creator or media site.
It’s time to get more personal – and emotional – with your content, everyone!
How to Optimize Your Blog for SEO Process
I’m all about process and one of the processes that I have added to my daily list of things that I do, is
- If I find that search traffic for a targeted keyword is dramatically falling, I want to look in and see if there are any old or non-relevant blog posts that I need to weed out and I do this on a periodic basis, just a little at a time.
- The other thing I do is try to target newer keywords, a little at a time, by optimizing old blog posts for SEO.
Do a few a day. Once you have your search rankings, you will find on a day-to-day basis, things change. So how do I specifically go about optimizing older blog content for SEO?
How to Optimize Your Blog for SEO by Improving the SEO Of Old Content
I try to improve the SEO of old content, but for content that I’m already ranked number one at, I don’t worry about. I start with content that I am ranked number two or below at, and literally work my way through the list of targeted keywords.
Every day, I go through a few posts and revise them. I revise them to rank higher for that keyword. And the way to do this is, and since a lot of you probably blog or create content on WordPress you use plugins, is to use the free Yoast SEO plugin.
How to Optimize Your Blog for SEO With Yoast
Yoast SEO has a paid version which I actually use. You do not have to use the paid version to be able to do what I’m about to teach you to do.
Once you put in the targeted keyword, Yoast tells you what to do – Yoast optimize their algorithms frequently – even if I optimized for a keyword in the past, it still wasn’t properly optimized in Yoast’s eyes. As time goes by, that way of optimization changes.
Invariably, there are a few areas I need to optimize on my posts. This will be different for every one of you.
I find the areas I often need to optimize my blog posts for SEO are:
- not mentioning the keyword in the first paragraph
- distribution of that keyword in your post is uneven
- not mentioning that keyword enough in alt images
- mentioning the keyword too often in alt images
- not bringing that keyword to the beginning of my SEO title
- not mentioning the keyword or it’s synonyms enough in H3 and H2 subheadings etc.
Yoast will absolutely work you through this entire process and give you realtime feedback on if you are applying the tool’s recommendations correctly or not.
Note: Yoast is not Google. There are no 100% guarantees you will rank higher. But his advice is worth taking – and I see better results when I abide by the tool’s advice! Note that SEMrush also has a similar tool which will compare your content with competitors that rank higher than you and recommend things like adding videos or other related keywords to help you rank higher.
What you will notice, is a way of tracking your efforts, of revised content vs content that you didn’t revise.
Stopping Your Internal Competition for How to Optimize Your Blog for SEO
The next step is finding areas where you rank high for the same blog post over different keywords. I prefer right now, at my stage, to only rank for one keyword and if the others come, that’s great. You can think of this as strategically organizing your troops for the SEO battle ahead!
Now go to SEMrush and look at the average volume or estimated volume of keywords, which is based on the number if search queries for those keywords, and decide which is the most strategic. I then delete the other keyword combinations off that dashboard so I can optimize for more and more keywords and blog posts.
You’re going to have to go through and find the blog posts where you rank for in multiple keywords and just pick one for now. Go for the most strategic one or most relevant one to your business and stick with that. Keep repeating this process.
Once you find that you have no more results in the top 100, you may want to consider adding other category keywords and beginning the same process over and over until, hopefully, for the 3,000 (!) keywords that you want to rank for, you’re at least in the top 100, that’s the initial goal.
This is how I tweak and revise my content for search engines even though it was not originally written for them.
Finding New Topics For Content to Optimize Your Blog for SEO
What is the other approach I take when I want to rank for keywords? Well, this is where I go through all the strategic keywords I want to rank for where I don’t have any existing content that ranks. That is where I look for ideas to blog about.
I look for an intersection of things that I have experienced recently working with clients, questions that I get from clients, when I speak on social media marketing, on my blog, or on social media. I look for an intersection of those topics with topics I am passionate and excited about talking about at the present (like this topic!), together with topics appearing as popular search queries which I don’t have any content that speaks to.
What I’ve found, especially as I am blogging from topics that are categories that I already rank higher for, is that within a few days I often see myself in at least the top 100 search results for these new topics for which I want to optimize my blog for SEO.
Obviously the goal is to get onto page 1 and then the top 3 search results and that’s going to take some time. But I know that with this approach, over time, that under 1% (out of 100%) search engine visibility that you might start with should get higher and higher if you’re doing things right, you’re an expert building authority, and your content, your website, and you, as a content creator, are trustworthy.
Alright, that was a LOT of content for you to consume today. I just wanted to share with you my own process and the reality that you need to face. It’s all about the search engines and it is a war! It is a battle! And you need to fight that battle a bit smarter with more and more competition and more and more companies doing content marketing.
So, start with SEMrush, use my process, make sure you’re using Yoast SEO (there are other tools out there but you need to have a tool and you need to have a process) and do this on a regular basis if you want to be successful over time.
I hope you found this how to optimize your blog for SEO post valuable and resourceful. I hope you enjoyed this and that you reward me with comments on the show notes or if you are an iTunes subscriber, throw a rating up there and a comment that helps interested professionals find this podcast. Of course, if you have any questions, please drop them below. Thanks!