I’m not ashamed to admit that I fall into the doofus category when it comes to this kind of thing, so if I can figure it out, you certainly can too. Okay, let’s get started!
Links are a good thing. There are a few different kind of links. One is internal links, which you create between different pages/posts on your site. Another is external links, which you create on your blog to link to another website. Finally, the Google gold comes from backlinks, which are links on other websites that connect back to yours. Google’s algorithms are pretty smart, so if all of this is done in an unnatural way it may actually hurt your search rankings. Google doesn’t publish their algorithms, so the SEO stuff you read about reflects the best that other people have been able to come up with.
Internal links help to establish that your site is well-organized. As far as I can tell people don’t necessarily have to click on those internal links; it’s the fact that they’re there creating structure that matters. The links should make sense, so if I was writing today about guilt I might link to a post from a couple of months ago that also talked about guilt.
For external links, from what I understand it’s most helpful if you can link in a logical way to well known sites. For example, if you’re mentioning something you looked up on Wikipedia, include a link. SEO aside, it’s always good practice if you’re mentioning another blogger in a post of yours to throw in a link to their post.
And that brings us to backlinks, the links that other people create on their site to connect to your site. These are outside of your direct control, and Google takes them as a sign that other people take your site seriously. Guest blogging can be a good way to get backlinks, especially if you’re doing a post for one of the big, well-known sites like The Mighty.
Any links that you have on your site may have worked fine when you set them up, but if you’ve come back later and changed some of your page/post names, or if other people have changed things up on their site, your links may not work anymore. Some of the tools I mention later in this post can help you to identify broken links so you can update them.
What an appealing name! Slugs are what’s used for the permalinks for your blog post. This post of mine will be https://mentalhealthathome.org/year/month/day/slug. Wordpress automatically sets your slug to what you’ve entered for your post’s title, but that’s not always ideal. You can change this in the WordPress editor. It’s over on the right-hand side under the “post settings” menu options. It’s the last one on the list, “more options”. Slugs should be short and sweet but descriptive, so for this post I shortened it to “seo-for-bloggers”. The words in your slug should be separated by dashes.
I have gotten a little better about this lately, but it does tend to slip my mind a fair bit. Going back and changing them is an option, but that means any links, either on your site or elsewhere, that were pointing to the post with the original slug aren’t going to work any more, so it seems like making that kind of change is more bother than it’s worth.
Any time you add an image to your site, you can edit the image to change the image title and enter an “alt text”, which is a brief description. These terms are what allow search engines to know what your image represents, so make sure they’re relevant. This can take ages to go back and do later, but it’s easy if you can stay on top of it. Your file name matters as well, so if you’re saving images off a site like Unsplash or Pixabay to upload to your blog, save the file under a name that indicates what it’s a picture of.
This isn’t something I pay attention to because my focus is on writing naturally. The idea of this, though, is to identify the words people are most likely to search when looking for a page/post like yours, and make sure you include those words in your post. It’s best to include them in the title if you can, near the beginning of the post, or in your H2 or H3 subheadings.
If you do any reading about SEO you’ll probably come across the idea of longtail keywords. Let’s say you wanted to find out if breathing increases your risk for cancer. If you search for the terms breathing and cancer, you’ll get a ton of results. But let’s say instead you entered “does breathing increase cancer risk”, you’ll get a lot fewer results. If I had a post with a heading that matched your search term, my post would rank high in the search results. Personally I don’t care too much about this, and I’m more interested in writing what feels natural to write.
Some useful tools
Google search console gives you insights into how Google sees your site and how it’s doing in searches. When you sign up for Google Search Console, Google needs a way of knowing that the site you’re entering is actually yours. Wordpress helps you through that process in their Verifying your domain with Google article. One of the things Google Search Console will ask for is a sitemap, which is a roadmap that WordPress builds for your site. The format is (blog address)/sitemap.xml. For me, that would be https://mentalhealthathome.org/sitemap.xml. Make sure you include the “https”, as Google sees it as something entirely different from “http”. Once you’re up and running, you can see how often you’re turning up in searches, and what your ranking is in search results.
Neil Patel’s site has a free SEO analyzer tool. If you plug in your blog’s URL, it will give you an SEO score and recommendation on how to improve your site. Presumably his site is getting something out of doing this; I have no idea what it might be, and to be honest I can’t say that I particularly care.
Internet Marketing Ninjas has a number of free tools including a link checker that will go through all the links it can find on your site and identify any problems. I discovered this recently, and learned from it that I had a sizeable number of broken links and redirected links that I ended up going back and fixing.
WordPress and SEO
If you change from a free WordPress plan to a paid plan and get your own domain name, any links to your blogname.wordpress.com pages will automatically redirect to your new site name. However, this redirect slows things down. Any internal links you had prior to upgrading to the new domain will result in redirects. The user will still get to where they want to go, but Google is less keen on redirects compared to direct links.
Google analytics allows you to track a lot of information about how people use your site. To do this, you need to including a tracking tag on your site’s pages. With WordPress, the only way to do that is by using a plug-in that’s only available with the business plan. The rest of us are shit outta luck.
So, what is the significance of all this? For most people, probably not a whole heck of a lot, and chances are it’ll take a while for search engines to start driving much traffic to your site. Still, a lot of these things aren’t hard to keep up on a regular basis, but they can be a pain in the butt to go back later and make changes. If you keep on top of it, you’re more likely to end up with some new people stumbling across your fabulous blog!