In this guide, I’ll show you how to rank your blog on the top of the first page of Google’s search results.
You’ll love it if you want to get more visitors from search engines.
This post features everything you need to know about blog search engine optimisation (SEO).
Let’s get started.
What bloggers need to know about how Google search works
Google wants to please its users.
If someone uses Google to search for something and quickly finds a satisfying answer, both Google and that user will be happy.
This means that Google strives to provide the value to its users by displaying the most relevant and reputable content on top of its search results.
And when I say the top of the results, that’s what I mean.
Around 50% of all clicks go to either the first or the second of the results.
If you’re not on the top, you’ll struggle to get many visitors.
So how does Google make sure to only rank content that its users want?
This is done best by reducing and eliminating any unsubstantial and useless content.
This type of content won’t make the users find answers to the questions they’re asking.
Google’s search algorithms extensively evaluate different aspects of the content assess the value and quality when choosing what to rank in their results.
Google values trust and wants to rank trustworthy sites only.
This means that you need to build a blog that people love and trust.
Your knowledge and experience help you create great content that will get other people to take notice.
You want your blog to be a highly reputable place with relevant and useful content about the topic you’re covering in order to be considered for that coveted top spot.
There are no shortcuts and scams that can get you to the top of search results as some “experts” promise you.
There are no easy ways and tricks that you can learn by buying their SEO products.
It’s a long, hard way to the top of Google’s results and your focus has to be on the production of quality content.
Google is very clear on that.
Relevancy is internal. It’s the topic that you create content about. It’s about the quality and usefulness of the content that you publish. It’s how you present yourself and your content to the world.
Reputation is external. It’s what people say about you in social media. It’s about the links you get from other places on the web and the importance of sites that link to your content.
Let’s look at both of these in detail.
Forget about SEO! Relevant content that your audience loves is king
Google has published a list of evergreen questions that you can use to assess the quality of your blog.
This is how I summarise the elements Google sees as key to a search-friendly blog:
Some bloggers go wrong by being so obsessed with search engine optimization that they neglect the content quality.
Google algorithms evolve continually, so it’s difficult to tweak and patch your site to keep up with the latest algorithmic update.
Forget about the SEO.
Don’t worry about the search engines and their algorithms.
Don’t publish tons of shallow content covering a long range of long-tail keywords and keyword phrases.
Fewer articles but of higher quality can actually result in more organic search traffic.
This is because low-quality content on parts of your blog can impact the rankings of the rest of your content.
Quality trumps quantity.
Start with your audience in mind and focus on the creation of the best user experience for people who are interested in your topic instead.
Publish quality content frequently so people come and visit you more often.
You want your blog to feature enough of relevant material so that search engines can discover you.
Without great content, there won’t be any visitors, no social media shares, no relevant links from reputable sites, and this means no traffic from the search engines either.
So what exactly is this great quality content?
The audience you are targeting will decide that.
Quality content means original and comprehensive content that answers questions real people have.
Content that “speaks” in the natural way that people in your target group would use when they speak.
One good way to get you on the right track is to think about what your target audience would type into Google to find the topic you’re covering.
Use Google Keyword Planner to find the keywords and phrases people search for.
Identify in-demand keywords, phrases and other topics that your potential audience is searching for.
Then create amazing content covering those topics and include the words people use naturally within it.
Something educational, informative, educational.
In-depth reports, analysis, insights and research.
Studies show that the average post listed on the first page of Google’s search results contains almost 2,000 words.
The opposite of high quality content is short content that adds no value to the visitors.
Don’t just rely on keyword research and on publishing weak articles full of keyword phrases people search for.
Thin content is not useful, it’s copied from another source or it’s so keyword-optimized that only robots are interested in it.
Don’t post content on topics that you don’t care about, that you have nothing interesting and useful to say about.
This is such an important area within SEO that I have created a full guide just on the topic of creation of quality content: 15 To-Dos To Publish Awesome Content That Attracts Visitors And Shares.
Your blog design is the queen
The design of your blog and the way you present yourself and your content play a big role in building trust with a first time visitor.
It’s about creating real and lasting connections with people in your audience.
And this connection is what Google values.
You keep your visitors happy.
Google keeps their users happy when they click on your content and find answers they are seeking optimally designed and presented.
Using WordPress is a good first step as it features a large selection of great designs that are SEO-optimized out of the box.
Look for a quality theme.
Something clean, simple, effective, pretty to look at and fast to load.
Google is expanding the use of mobile-friendliness as an important ranking signal so find something mobile friendly too.
Consider activating the official WordPress plugin for Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages to speed up your loading time on mobile devices.
Avoid designs with fancy, complicated navigation as they tend to turn visitors away quite quickly.
So keep it simple and use good old text-based menu navigation towards the top of your blog.
Show your face.
Include full information, address, phone number and other contact details.
Tell your story, your achievements, experience and explain why you are worth listening to.
If you are providing services or selling products, include testimonials and reviews from real customers and people.
Include the list of sites and other media that you have been featured in.
Display social proof.
Your social media follower counts and the number of times your content is shared.
Use one of the many WordPress plugins to do this.
Limit the number of banner ads (remove them entirely if possible), especially those prominent banners above the fold.
Google downgrades sites with a high number of prominent banner advertisements.
There are other revenue sources with more potential.
As you can see the design is another highly relevant topic for SEO.
I’ve created the definitive guide on everything you need to know about blog design: How To Design A Blog And Make It Look Pretty.
What do I do if I’ve already published tons of not so good content?
You may not have followed the above advice when you started your blog and find yourself in the situation where you don’t get much search traffic.
It’s not too late for you though.
If you’re unhappy with your current performance in the search results, you can do a content audit to get your blog back on track.
The idea of the content audit is to review your entire content archive and get a good overview of your current content.
Do a search on Google for “site:yourdomainname.com” to get a list of pages within your domain name that Google knows about.
Do the full audit of all of these pages and consider quality and relevance of each and every one of them.
For each article in your current content archive you need to consider if you should:
- Keep it as it is
- Upgrade and improve it by adding more recent info, more useful examples, better imagery and other media
- Merge and consolidate it with other posts to create a more substantial and higher quality post
- Delete it from your blog
Are there any very short and shallow articles that don’t really answer any user questions?
Are there bad and unsubstantial guest posts that you have featured that link out to some irrelevant and dodgy sites?
Are there any duplicate posts that you just copied from another site on the web?
Are there several posts that cover the same or similar topic?
Are there posts which have low visitor engagement such as little time spent on them or high bounce rate?
(Bounce rate is the percentage of readers who navigate away from the site after only viewing one page.)
Are there inappropriate posts that have nothing to do with the topic you’re covering or the audience you’re looking to attract?
Review everything in detail.
Be tough and very critical.
Don’t be afraid to remove any bad or irrelevant content.
You may just see a spike in search traffic coming in the weeks following the content audit.
Your blog’s reputation and what you need to know about links
A major component of increasing your search rankings is the quality of links you get to your content from other sites.
The original idea behind Google’s results was based on the citations and the fact that the number of citations a research paper has is a good way of judging its quality, credibility and influence.
Links give your blog that authority, trustworthiness, credibility and influence that Google wants to see.
It’s not all about the number of links pointing to you.
It’s about the quality and the importance of places that link to you.
The quality of links depends on the relevance, context and popularity of the site that is linking to you.
The higher the quality of a site that links to you the more importance that link gets.
How do you know if a site is a quality site?
You can understand that by asking yourself these questions.
Does it rank in Google’s search results for relevant keywords phrases?
Are there many social media shares and conversation around the posts they’re publishing?
Is there a lively discussion in their comment area?
I have a complete guide on figuring out how to identify the right websites to reach out and syndicate your content on: Guest Blogging: The Definitive Guide.
- Publishing quality content is step one towards high quality links.
- Proactively reaching out and doing marketing for your content is step two to acquiring links and shares.
You need to be ready to put in a lot of hours getting yourself and your content out there.
Commenting on other posts, in relevant forums and other niche communities.
Being active in the conversations around your topic on the social media platforms that are important to people you’re trying to target.
Syndicating your content to bigger and more influential sites relevant to your audience.
Your marketing work is just as important as the work you’re putting into the production of amazing content.
Perhaps even more important.
I recommend you spend at least half of your time on promoting your content.
This is why I have published a detailed guide on places you can go to share your content and get links that will help you rank in search engines: 40 Places To Share, Promote And Distribute Your Blog Content.
Help visitors discover and explore more of your content
You need to link to your own content within your articles.
It’s the best way of directing your visitors from one story to another and make the traffic flow.
Internal links are a great service for your visitors.
They introduce them to relevant articles, provide them more detailed information and get them to look deeper and further explore your content.
Internal links lead to an increased stickiness of your content and improve the usability of your blog.
Time spent on site and the number of pages per visit should increase with an increase in the number of internal links.
The bounce rate should decrease too.
Your visitors will love your content and stay on it for a longer period of time.
WordPress makes it very easy to link within the content so do it whenever it makes sense to help your visitors explore your relevant content further.
Click on the “Insert/Edit Link” button.
It lets you search for keywords that you are writing about and easily discovers relevant internal pages to link to.
Select the relevant article and click on the “Apply” button.
You don’t necessary only have to link from new to old posts.
You can also do it the other way around.
If you have a good, older post that is relevant to something you have written more about lately, go back and edit the old one and include a link back to the new post.
Your internal links should indicate and describe what it is that you are linking to in order to attract visitors to click on them.
Phrases like “click here” or “go here” may work sometimes but as the link anchor text does not indicate what you are linking to it does not help your visitor know what will happen after they click.
This is a much more effective method for encouraging people to explore deeper than making them have to use the “back” button to search for relevant content.
Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
Enable breadcrumbs as they are a great internal linking tool.
Install this plugin or use one of the themes that enable breadcrumbs by default.
Show related posts at the end of your articles.
Several plugins are available for this including YARPP.
Link to your popular posts and latest posts from your sidebar.
Use your footer to place links to contact us, about us and other similar pages
How to optimize WordPress to make it 100% search-friendly
You’re most probably using WordPress to run your blog.
There’s some very good SEO news for you.
Matt Cutts, the former lead of Google’s web spam team, praised WordPress for being an SEO-friendly platform that automatically solves a ton of issues bloggers might have.
It’s a fantastic piece of software, makes your site easily crawlable by search engines, solves some 80-90% of mechanics of SEO and is the first big step anyone can take towards creating a popular online business.
Watch Matt’s full talk below.
It has stood the test of time and is an excellent introduction to the blog SEO:
Matt recommends you do these things to fully optimise your WordPress blog for search engines:
Enable pretty permalinks.
Create a custom permalink structure of your posts and pages.
These are the options you have:
Having keywords from your post titles in your URL is a very important step in ranking well in search engines.
The majority of search traffic that I get contain keywords closely related to the words in my domain name.
You could help yourself by using a descriptive domain name and pretty permalinks too.
Go into Settings – Permalinks and choose “Post Name” or “Custom Structure”: /%category%/%postname%/
Tag or categorize the posts to make them more discoverable.
This will make sure that your new post is displayed in the relevant sections of your site.
Every one of your posts should contain a descriptive category or a descriptive tag link.
Manually edit the permalink of the individual posts to make it nicer and cleaner.
Make a different post title from the URL itself to help cover more keyword alternations that you wouldn’t cover if they were both identical.
It’s easy to edit the URL of your post, so it’s more concise and clean compared to your headline.
Make sure to click on that “edit” button and do it.
Upgrade your software to keep your site secure.
Older versions of WordPress are easier to hack and that will negatively affect your site.
More tips on making your site secure.
Speed up the loading time.
Make sure your site is fast to load as that is another factor that contributes to people staying longer.
Check for broken links.
Search engines and your readers do not like broken links so use the Broken Link Checker plugin to discover and fix broken links.
It is a simple plugin that automates the process for you.
Use HTTPS instead of HTTP in your domain name.
Especially if you’re an online store selling products or services.
Or if you’re accepting payments and ask users to submit other personal info using forms on your site.
Google prefers encrypted and secure sites as these protect the users better and browsers warn against sites that are not secured.
Google Search Console is a valuable free tool that you should use
Search Console (formerly known as the Webmaster Tools) is a free web app created by Google that’s an essential part of optimizing your site for search engines.
It can help you improve your site and thereby get more visitors.
With Search Console, you connect your site to Google and share information directly with the search giant.
In return, Google provides you insights into how they “see” your site and many other useful details:
- You can see how your site appears in the search results
- See which search phrases and queries people use to find your content
- See which of your posts get most visitors from search
- View clicks, impressions, click-through rates and average search positions for your content
- See which sites link to you, which posts they link to, and what words they use to link to you
- See which internal pages you link to and how many times you link to them
- See “page not found” errors that Google has discovered on your site
- See any other HTML, usability and security issues detected
- Get notified if you’re running an old version of WordPress
- Google notifies you if and when there’s something you should fix to rank higher or even to regain your lost rankings.
All this means that you can learn about specific problems Google has with your site.
Many of these are also issues that may annoy your visitors.
Alongside the tracking code from Google Analytics, verifying your site with Search Console should be one of the first things you do when starting a new blog.
Adding and verifying your site to Search Console
Visit Google Search Console and log in using your Google account.
Click on the “Add A Property” button in the top right corner.
Type in the domain name of your site in the window and click “Add”.
Verify the ownership of your domain name.
Google’s recommended method is to upload a verification file to your server, but a plugin such as Jetpack can help you do this too.
Alternative options are to verify your domain through Google Analytics (if you’ve already set it up), or add an HTML tag to the <head> section of your site.
Choose the method you prefer and go through the process.
After you verify the ownership of your domain name, your setup is complete.
Four things to do after connecting to Search Console
These are the things you should do after signing in to your profile for the first time:
In Crawl > Sitemaps you can add your sitemap file to tell Google about your content and help them learn which pages are most important to you and how often those pages change.
An XML sitemap is a file that lists URL’s of your pages with additional metadata such as when the post was last updated.
Several plugins can help you create an XML sitemap.
This one is one of the most downloaded.
Install a sitemap plugin, activate it and submit it to Google Search Console.
Create a permanent redirect of your domain name.
Decide what is the URL of your website.
In Settings – General in WordPress choose either www version or non-www version and stick with it.
If you decide your main URL is yourblog.com (without www) you need to always link to yourblog.com, and not to www.yourblog.com.
Then set your preferred domain in Google Webmaster Tools.
Click on the Settings button on the top right and then “Site Settings“.
Here you can specify your preferred domain.
In Search Traffic > International Targeting, you can inform Google if you are targeting a specific language or a specific country.
This could be the case for those that run multilingual sites.
You should subscribe to get email notifications if you don’t plan to check the Search Console regularly.
Click on the Settings button in the top right corner, choose “Search Console Preferences” and enable email notifications.
All the valuable insights will now be delivered to your email inbox.
A guided tour through Google Search Console
There’s quite a bit of information that you get access to in the Search Console.
It all helps you get a better picture of how optimized your content is, and what changes you need to make.
Here’s a guided tour of the different sections and information they provide:
Dashboard is where you get a quick overview of any significant and critical messages that Google has sent you and the current status of your site regarding Crawl Errors, Search Queries, and Sitemaps.
Make sure to monitor these as Google will give you warning signs if there are things that need your attention such as Google robots being unable to crawl your site, new 404 pages found that you should fix immediately, and any increase or decrease of your rankings in search results.
You will also be notified via email.
“Messages” is your inbox which features any message that Google sends you about your site.
These are mostly automated messages that can alert you to some things that Google has discovered that you may have to take a look at.
Things such as an increase in the number of “page not found” occurrences or a drop in rankings.
Search Appearance gives you more details on how your site and pages appear in the search results.
This includes information about Structured Data (your schema.org data), Rich Cards, and HTML Improvements (issues with titles and tags of your pages).
Review these recommendations and fix any outstanding issues.
Search Traffic is very interesting.
It tells you what keyword phrases Google ranks you for, how many impressions and clicks you get from the individual search results, what positions you are ranked in, and even which of your pages are best ranked.
Google also shows information about internal links and external sites linking to you.
“Manual Actions” part tells you if Google has taken action and removed your site from their index because of spam, harmful content or any other reason.
“Mobile Usability” section informs you if there are any usability errors with your site design on tablets or mobiles.
Google Index gives you the status on how many of your pages are indexed and what keywords you are using the most.
Here you also have the option to remove URL’s from Google’s index if you don’t want them to display any longer.
Crawl section gives you “Errors” (such as 404 page not found) encountered on your site.
There’s also details on how Google crawls your content and how frequently.
Make sure to fix or redirect any missing pages.
This helps improve the user experience and will contribute to you having better rankings.
The easiest way is to use a plugin such as this.
You do also edit the .htaccess file on your server. Add a new line for each redirection:
Redirect 301 /old-post-permalink/ http://yourdomainname.com/new-post-permalink/
Get free links by finding links to non-existent pages on your site.
See “Linked From” to identify sites that linked to these pages and either fix the page or contact the author of the link to get them to update it.
Security Issues section will be empty hopefully.
Do check and see if Google discovered some important matters you should deal with.
Other Resources section gives you links to some other useful Google products, such as “Structured Data Testing Tool” and “Pagespeed Insights” which help you speed up the loading time on your content.
Google is the biggest search engine and a very important referral of traffic for most bloggers.
Make sure to follow these blog SEO tips for your content to get ranked and get traffic from search.