Forgive me for the hyperbolic title (and for the fact that it’s proven wrong simply by you reading this far). But what I mean by the title is that beyond the slightly deprecating title and the body of this post, no additional effort has been put into helping others discover this post. Or put another way, this post has not been search engine optimized, better referred to as the common three-letter buzzword “SEO”.
SEO is nothing new. It’s been around more or less since people discovered that they could influence search results (read people) based on what content they did, or didn’t, include on a webpage. And much like any industry that is profitable, tricks and techniques have been discovered and refined to create an entire industry. An industry ruled behind closed doors of large private companies, fraught with slimy gimmicks and genuinely useful improvements. But nonetheless, an almost mandatory part of the digital publishing world.
Without becoming quixotic about a world where one didn’t need to spend just as much time optimizing a post with keywords and alt tags as they did writing it, I’d like to share some easy, straightforward techniques to help bolster an article that would otherwise be lost in the digital typhoon of publications.
With any tutorial, a friendly “your mileage will vary” reminder is important, along with that there isn’t a silver bullet to SEO. Things can change fast, but my goal is to provide a few tricks that are easy and useful enough to help your post standout a little more than it would have otherwise. Let’s begin.
If you take nothing else away from this post, take away this: good content is your best method for attracting visitors. And in that great content, you’ll no doubt have some great keywords. Those keywords will be the ties to the queries your potential users will be searching with. Without putting too fine a point on things, that’s how SEO works in a nutshell: using the same words someone is searching for.
There’s a reason most recipes online start with a long story, typically about what that specific recipe means to the author. Although the stories are presumably heartwarming and charming (I wouldn’t know as I’ve never read one), they double as an opportunity for each recipe page to boost their keyword count, therefore giving a larger footprint for search engines to match them to users. Which leads into the next important part.
When you’ve decided on a potential topic to write about, there are some tricks you can perform to help yourself from the beginning. Picking out a few specific keywords is perhaps the best thing you can do in terms of the effort to results ratio.
The process is simple. Say you’re writing a blog post about leadership techniques in small groups. Using a few tools listed below (and there are plenty more available than just the ones here) you can see how many people are searching for keywords related to your topic.
Then you can play around with more specific keywords to help narrow down your post to your ideal audience. “Leadership” is pretty broad and encompasses a lot, but “Leadership techniques for small agencies” obviously would be better if targeting that demographic. Using some of these tools, you can quickly find the best balance of not too broad and not so specific that no one is searching for that phrase. Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes and imagine what you would search for if looking for whatever you’re writing about. Then bingo, you have your keywords.
To figure out who is searching for what, paid tools like Keywords Everywhere are commonly recommended, but I typically just use the free Google Trends. These will help you narrow down some terms that will bring in traffic, but not be too broad.
Once you have some keywords, you can compare which ones are less competitive (i.e. who else is using the same keywords, making it harder for yours to be found) using a tool such as KeySearch. Or simply wing it and romanticize about time before faceless algorithms had such an impact on our lives. Overall, it helps to avoid broad subjects, and focus down into niche aspects, as those tend to naturally have less competition and therefore rank higher in their respective areas.
Monica Lent has a really excellent 7 day email course around SEO that is easy to digest and isn't too overwhelming. It's designed with developers in mind, but the techniques can easily be applied to any industry. I highly recommend checking her course out, especially since it's free: https://bloggingfordevs.com.
For transparency, she didn't ask me to promote her and I don't make any money off of you signing up-- it's just a really great course that I recommend checking out.
She also has a really good video walking through the techniques I touched on above:
Another aspect is how often to post. My opinion is to A) only post something that you feel is genuinely useful and something you would want to read, and B) write once and post multiple places (depending on the content).
If you are writing about something in your industry or a hobby, find places online where those topics are being discussed and share your piece. Don’t be spammy, but don’t be afraid to share. Some useful advice I received early on is that if you’re worried about being spammy, you’re probably not being spammy. It’s the people who aren’t conscious of it being a potential problem that are usually the culprits. This can also apply to many other aspects of your life in general.
Comments are one of those nice to have things to help promote discussion around your articles. I’m indifferent, but some feel very strongly on the matter, even to go as far as to state it shouldn’t even be called a blog unless it has comments. But in the world of SEO, there’s a common consensus that they are beneficial by helping to improve your page rankings.
I believe the thought is search engines tend to favor newer content, so having comments improves the longevity of your post. I’m not sure how much “Great article!” really helps your rankings, but it probably doesn’t hurt. And most platforms provide some method of enabling comments.
One alternative technique I’ve seen is to simply post a link to your article on social media (e.g. Twitter) or a forum (e.g. Reddit or Hacker News) and tell people to leave comments there. It doubles as both an easy comment solution for yourself and a simple way to promote your piece online.
One tool I use frequently is a headline capitalization tool. A friend showed it to me, and I wind up using it all the time. It’s a small tool that solves an even smaller issue of properly capitalizing headlines. You may find it useful as well.
I use this one, but there are dozens online for free if you just search for them (hey, SEO!).
SEO is an ever changing beast. People build whole careers out of optimizing for search engines (and make good money at that). My suggestion is that writing can be difficult enough, and just finishing an article can feel like a herculean task in and of itself. So don’t let SEO optimization hold you back from publishing your thoughts and opinions. Focus on writing and publishing, and over time SEO techniques will creep into your process. I’ve provided a few easy tricks above to help that don’t take too long, but there are many, many more things you can do in the world of SEO, so don’t get too hung up on any one aspect of it.