Starting a blog is easy, even writing your first post is simple and fun. But what does it take to become a successful blogger? And if you’re already getting traffic, how to keep it growing and safeguard your site from penalties, sudden ranking drops, negative SEO, etc.?
About a month ago, millions of bloggers and webmasters worldwide were hit with yet another Google update (called the “Medic update” by Barry Schwartz). As you can imagine, Google reps are not willing to go into detail and explain why some sites got hit really hard, while others have moved to the top (“nothing to fix” they say). So what do you do to keep your blog safe and sound?
You need a consistent content and SEO strategy for your blog.
If you wanted to build a good house, would you take the cheapest blocks and connect them in any random way to finish the job as soon as possible? Or would you plan the construction step-by-step and keep an eye on each element used? Treat your blog/site like a house you live in and it’ll be alright whatever the storm tries to hit it.
In today’s post, I want to focus on the fundamentals of SEO and online marketing for bloggers. I want to show how you can build the strong foundation for your blog, make it optimized for users and search engines, and protect it from penalties.
At the end of this post, you’ll find your starter PDF checklist, so you’ll have something to work on right after you finish the read!
If you could only do one thing to your blog, it should be onsite optimization. If your website cannot be crawled, if it takes too long to load or it can’t be viewed on mobile devices, your cool content won’t stand a single chance to catch readers attention.
To check how “healthy” your blog is from the technical point of view, you can scan it with a tool like WebSite Auditor.
Even if you are not tech- and SEO- savvy, try to find some time to dig through the issues found on your website and fix the critical ones. That is crucial. Without it, none of the rest of this stuff even matters.
I’d recommend starting the audit with these factors:
If some pages on your blog are blocked from indexing, people won’t be able to see them in search results. So, make sure that important content is always available for indexing.
A few broken links here and there are not a huge trouble for your blog, but if a site has hundreds of them, it is logical to conclude that the content has not been updated for quite a long time. Search engines do not favor outdated and abandoned websites.
Also, check the list of redirected pages and fix long redirect chains (pages with 2 and more redirects) — these can badly impact the indexing of your blog content.
Site speed is known to be a search engine ranking factor and for a reason — it greatly influences user experience, something Google’s crazy about. So, why risk your rankings and ignore site’s performance?
Our own tests confirm that page speed plays a big role in ranking fluctuations, so it’s a good idea to follow Google’s advice (and they don’t give us many, do they?) and make your blog lightning fast by:
- Avoiding landing page redirects.
- Enabling compression.
- Improving server response time.
- Leveraging browser caching.
- Minifying resources.
- Optimizing images.
- Optimizing CSS Delivery.
- Prioritizing visible content.
And as your competitors will optimize the performance of their websites as well, you’ll need to monitor and tune your blog on a regular basis.
If you switch to the Visualization tab in WebSite Auditor, you’ll see the graphical representation of your blog:
Here you can take a quick look at the structure of your blog, check the internal links, and analyze click depth.
During one of the Google Webmaster Central hangouts, John Mueller revealed that the number of slashes in a URL does not matter. What does matter is how many clicks it takes to get to a page from the home page. So, make sure that your most important posts are not more than two clicks away from blog’s homepage.
This visualization will also help you plan your blog structure using the so-called topic clusters. The topic cluster model consists of a single central ‘pillar’ page linking to multiple items of cluster content that all link back in turn to the main pillar page.
If you decide to use this system, you’ll need to choose the specific topic, your pillar content (and it’s going to be one of your top important landing pages too), and surround it with relevant posts (cluster content). Pillar content and cluster content get connected via hyperlinks. And it’ll be cool if you manage to create cluster content using different formats, such as how-to guides, video reviews, webinars, photo stories, downloadable content, etc.
Last but not least, make sure that your blog is responsive to different screen sizes and shapes. Again, this impacts user experience and your search rankings and traffic.
There’s much more to technical SEO of course, but if you manage to fix these 5 factors, it’s going to be a very solid foundation for further optimization.
And if you want to dig deeper into the techie stuff of SEO, check these guides from our learning hub:
- How to visualize and improve site’s structure
- Types of duplicate content and how to stay safe from it
- The SEO’s guide to internal linking
- The technical SEO checklist
Brainstorm ideas, set goals, and research keywords
Now that we know our blog posts are 100% crawlable and can be accessed by users and search engines, we can safely turn to a more “entertaining” part of your blog optimization — content planning and keyword research.
First things first — how do you come up with new catchy ideas? If you blog on a regular basis, I bet you’ve already hit the point when the words just dry up. The good thing is that inspiration may come just as you’re doing regular keyword research for your posts.
Here are the steps I’d strongly recommend you to follow before you start writing:
Do you want to attract a new audience? Do you need to convince your existing subscribers about anything? Or are you planning to share some big news that will hopefully get lots of retweets and likes? Whatever your goals are, get certain about them before you start writing. This way, you’ll be able to determine the related metrics (sign-ups, social signals, sales, etc.) and later on measure them.
For instance, your goals may look the following way:
- Get in the top 10 search results in Google for the “Best Christmas decorations ideas” keyword.
- Achieve at least 50 sign-ups.
- Get 1,000 unique page visitors per month.
- Earn $1,500 on affiliate commissions.
- Increase your social media following by 10%.
Well, you get the idea! You can keep your goals pinned on the fridge or stuck to your monitor to remind you of what you’re planning to achieve.
There are a great number of keyword research guides on the internet (see our latest guides here and here). Most of them focus on the 3 main steps:
- Write a seed list of starting terms.
- Extend this list using keyword research tools.
- Refine your list using competitive research.
Sounds easy? Well, it’s a bit more complicated when you get down to it.
Nowadays search engines tend to gravitate more and more to semantic search. Today’s web users are searching with a different set of queries.
Five years ago, a user could search for “buy used computers in washington,” while today’s searcher may use voice-activated search assistants and say, “find me local PC stores with the biggest discounts”.
So how do we find these semantically related groups of key phrases? Rank Tracker can help you with the task.
Say, you’re in the mood for writing a post on “how to choose an apartment to buy.” In Rank Tracker’s Keyword Research module switch to Keyword Suggestions and select Google AdWords Keyword Planner (you may choose other sources later to expand the list) and type in your keyword — “how to choose an apartment to buy” in our case.
After Rank Tracker finishes collecting keyword ideas, you’ll see them neatly organized in groups in the Sandbox module:
Just by looking at these groups of phrases, I can already mark out the structure of my future post (or posts, if it’s going to be a series):
- Is buying an apartment a good investment?
- An apartment or a house — which is better?
- Questions to ask when viewing an apartment.
- Flat buying checklist.
- Apartment hunting tips.
- Things you need for your first apartment.