Getting your blog posts ranked in Google is a blogger’s wet dream. It’s free traffic, every day, it makes you feel famous, and it usually means other people have linked to your content. In other words, it means your blog post is awesome.
We already have a guide here at Travelbloggr that takes you through some very simple SEO best practices, and if you’ve implemented them on your site, your blog is already primed for pulling in some decent search traffic.
However, SEO is not a simple set-and-forget affair. Every time you write a new blog post, there are a few things you should be doing before publishing to optimize those posts for search traffic. Luckily this is not complicated, and should only take you around 15 minutes once you get the hang of it.
Step 1: Optimise your posts with the Yoast plugin
One of the main things Google spiders look for is metadata. Metadata is just a fancy name for bits of information in your posts, like the title and description. As metadata, you make this information easy for Google to find.
The easiest and most effective way to create good metadata is to use a plugin.
Yoast is a free SEO plugin and probably the most widely used out there. Here’s a screenshot of the Yoast tab for a recent blog post I wrote:
If you have no idea what you’re looking at, don’t worry. I’ll talk you through it.
The first thing you will do is set up the keywords that you’re trying to target. You’ll see this at the bottom of the screenshot above. You’ll notice I’ve set the keyword as “what is couchsurfing”. I could have also put “how to couchsurf” or “couchsurfing guide” or something similar.
Think about what people would type into Google when trying to find your post. That’s ideally what your keyword phrase should be.
(Some keywords will be harder to rank for than others, but we’ll talk about that later).
Now that you’ve chosen your keyword(s), you need to enter your first pieces metadata – the Title tag and the Description tag. These are the things that Google will display in search results whenever your post comes up, like so:
Therefore it’s important that you use titles and descriptions that:
- Contain your keyword.
- Will make you want to click if you see it pop up in Google.
The last piece of metadata you’ll see in Yoast is the slug. The slug is just the end of the URL for that post. For example, if you want the URL to be brenontheroad.com/couchsurfing-101, the slug will simply be couchsurfing-101. Ideally your slug should also contain the keyword phrase, but in this case I went with something a little different – just personal preference.
As long as Yoast gives your metadata a green ranking (see the green bars in that screenshot above) you should be good to go. Yoast also gives you a written analysis on each post, so you can see where you can improve to get it into the green:
Step 2: Add metadata to your images
Google is not yet smart enough to read images. At least not that well. That means if you want your images to help rank your posts, you’ll need to tell Google what the images are.
To do this, we need to add metadata to our images as well. We can do this directly in WordPress when we upload our images:
The important metadata here is the “alt text”, sometimes known as the alt tag. This is where you tell Google what the image, or the post, is about. You can simply enter your keywords in there, or a longer description if you like. It’s also good practice to fill out your Title and Description tags.
Now that you’ve added some metadata to your images, Google is going to be able to crawl them as well, giving your post a little more SEO juice.
Step 3: Use lots of headings
Try and organise your posts with lots of headings. Headings hold more weight in Google than regular text, because they supposedly describe larger chunks of your post and what it’s about. Google is conscious of trying to return the most relevant content, and headings almost act like mini Title tags.
Using headings tags throughout your content is simple – just choose the Heading text format right inside your WordPress editor:
Try and include good keyword phrases in your headings – this will tell Google that you’ve written more about that topic in the paragraphs that follow, helping you rank for those keywords.
Step 4: Interlink your post
This is super important. In our beginner’s guide to travel blogging SEO, we talked about links being one of the main juice-builders of SEO, and internal links are a part of that! Chances are you already have lots of good, optimised content on your blog. By interlinking your post (both inward and outward) with other posts on your blog, you not only improve the SEO for the post, but all your other posts too. If you ever see an opportunity to link to another post on your site, make sure you do it! This is one of the easiest ways to add juice to your posts.
Step 5: Write long, quality content
Before I even knew what SEO was, I already had posts ranking in Google. This was because I had obsessed over writing really long, quality posts, many of which were over 3,000 words and contained a lot of good, helpful content. People started sharing these posts on social media, and as traffic grew I started noticing some search engine traffic coming to my site.
This underpins what I’ve always said about SEO; the key is to simply create great content. Google will find it eventually.
At the end of the day, Google wants to give its users the best content possible. Not only that, people share good content. People link to good content. Everything that you need for strong SEO happens naturally with good content.
You might be asking, what makes good content?
- Lots of paragraphs.
- Clear lists and headings.
- Easy to read.
- Good punctuation.
- Detailed and juicy with lots of good information.
- Lots of quality images.
- Helpful content that answers people’s questions.
While linking and metadata will supercharge your post for SEO, you need to make sure the product itself is excellent first. If it is, most of the other things will fall into place, too.
These five steps should only take you ten or fifteen minutes before publishing each post, and will go a long way toward making your posts SEO-friendly. This is enough. Obsessing for hours over SEO is not a productive thing, and try to understand you will do fine with just the basic optimizations above. However, if you’d like to really get into it and go the extra mile, I have a bonus step for you.
Bonus step: Selecting the perfect keywords
Let me preface this step with this:
If your blog is new, and you are still building an audience, don’t spend your time messing around with this step. There are so many other important things you should be doing, such as writing more content, building your social media profiles, building your email list, networking etc. This step is more for bloggers who already have strong, stable traffic and are looking to move to the next level. Of course you’re welcome to dabble around with keywords, but please don’t spend whole days on it. Your time will be much better spent elsewhere.
Now, for the grunty stuff.
When choosing keywords, it’s important to do research. If you’re still a small blog, you’re never going to get ranked for keywords with millions of other competitors. A keyword like “cheap flights” is going to be impossibly competitive, with hundreds of millions of searches per day.
However, you might be able to rank for other ‘long tail’ keywords, like “discount flights to iceland” or “budget mediterranean flights”.
To know whether or not you should target these keywords, you need to do some research. What you’re trying to find out is:
- If people are actually searching for these keywords;
- Who is currently ranking in Google for the keyword;
- If you can compete with them.
This is all pretty straightforward, and can be done with a few simple clicks. I actually use a software called Market Samurai to do this, as it makes things much easier, but you can do everything I’m about to show you with Google’s free keyword planner tool as well. The only difference is it will take a little longer – what will take you an hour with software might take you a whole day with free tools.
If you’d like to try this out with your own posts, Market Samurai does offer a free trial (just click here to grab it), so you can download it and have a free whiz for a couple of weeks to see if it actually helps or not.
Anyway, for this particular example we’ll stick with the Couchsurfing post from earlier. I didn’t actually do any keyword research for that post when I wrote it, so this will be interesting!
The first thing you need to do is generate a bunch of related keywords. We already know we won’t be ranking for “Couchsurfing” by itself, but there are longer tail keywords we could rank for. To find possibilities for this, it’s as simple as typing in the keyword “Couchsurfing” and clicking “Generate keywords”. Here’s what it looks like in Market Samurai, but remember you can do this in Google’s keyword planner as well.
After removing all the junk, you can see we’ve got 116 keywords to deal with. A large percentage of them will still be junk, but we’re only concerned with the top results anyway. If we click Keyword Analysis, we’ll get a full snapshot of each keyword and if anyone is searching for them.
The following keyword analysis gives you a lot of information. I could sit here and write for days about all of it, but there are only a couple of things we’re really concerned with. The first is the number of searches, which is the first column I’ve outlined in red. The second column, SEOT, is also important, which is an estimate of the number of monthly clicks you would get if you were the top ranking page for that keyword.
Obviously “couchsurfing” alone gets the most searches at almost 22,000 per month.
“couchsurfing org” is next at 1,527 searches per month, and “couchsurfing international inc” follows at 1,171 searches per month. Usually anything less than 1,000 searches per month isn’t worth worrying about, but one that sticks out there is “couchsurfing horror stories” which would be quite easy to target, even though the search potential is pretty dismal.
Now that we know what keywords people are searching for, we need to see what the competition is like. In Market Samurai you can just click the “key” beside any of those keywords and it’ll take you right to a competition analysis.
We won’t bother looking at the competition for “couchsurfing” because it’s usually fruitless to try and rank for single words like that. What is far more effective is targeting ‘long tail keywords’, which is just a fancy name for a longer phrase that has your keyword in it.
Just to start off we’ll look at the second most searched term, “couchsurfing org”:
What you’re seeing right now are the actual Google results for that search term – that’s all those URLs in the left hand column. You can see it’s mostly the Couchsurfing wbesite ranking for that term (obviously) and it’s probably not a good idea trying to compete with them. Google Play, iTunes and Wikipedia are also ranking on the first page, and I don’t think we’ll be competing with them either.
If you look to the right of the search results, you’ll see all the colourful, complicated looking numbers. These are indicators such as number of backlinks that page has (BLP), how old the domain is (DA) and a bunch of other stuff I won’t bother talking about right now. Basically, it’s data that is telling you how hard it will be to compete.
Without writing out what all those numbers mean, an easy way to interpret them is:
- Lots of Green=Easy
- Lots of Red=Hard
In other words, if you see a lot of red, don’t bother trying. If you see a lot of green, you’ve got a good shot!
In this particular case, there’s a little too much red for my liking.
Now let’s look at another keyword – “couchsurfing horror stories”
As this keyword only gets 140 searches per month, it’s going to be a lot easier to rank for. Normally you wouldn’t bother focusing on a keyword with such low search traffic, but for the purposes of this example we’ll take a look. We can already see a lot more green boxes on this screen than before – it’s basically a field day for anyone who wants to get on the first page for that search term!
For example, take a look at the Domain Age (DA) column. The green boxes there show a few sites that are only 2 or 3 years old. If your site is older than that, you’ll have a good chance of having better SEO overall and could rank for the keyword if you targeted it.
The RDD column represents the number of domains that link back to that site, and the BLP column represents the number of backlinks that particular page has. There are a lot of green boxes in both those columns, some are even zeros, so that again means it would be quite doable to outrank those pages.
In practice, this would mean adding the phrase “couchsurfing horror stories” a couple of times in your post, maybe adding it as an alt tag to your images or one of the topic tags on your post, and you could even add it to your post as a heading if possible. Ideally you would want to add the phrase to your title and description tags too, if that was possible. If your site is reasonably established, you would probably find yourself on the first page without too much trouble.
Looking back this probably wasn’t the best example as there weren’t many keywords to rummage through, however if we wanted to, we could go through and search more related keywords like “free accommodation” or “hospitality exchange” and things like that and flesh out a slightly better strategy. While most people simply don’t have time to do this, you can do all these things super fast with Market Samurai, so it does give you an SEO leg up on your competitors.
As I said, keyword research can be a big time suck, and this is really just one aspect of SEO geeking, but if you are writing a post and think it’s something a lot of people will be searching for, spending an hour on finding some keywords to throw in can be the difference between the first and the third page of Google. Hopefully the example above has given you a good idea of what you’re looking for when hunting for good keywords, and what you need to do to find them.
6 step SEO summary
- Optimize your metadata with the Yoast SEO plugin.
- Add metadata to your images.
- Use headings.
- Interlink your posts.
- Write long, quality content.
- Research high search traffic / low competition keywords with Google Keyword Planner or Market Samurai.
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