Search engine optimization (SEO) can seem pretty intimidating at first. However, there are some SEO basics that any blogger can implement that will not only make your posts more search engine friendly, but also make them more reader-friendly. In addition, WordPress looks for similar elements when making post recommendations to users in the WP Reader, so you can get your posts in front of more eyeballs that way.
None of the strategies covered in this post involve changes in what you write. You’re writing for yourself and your readers, not for search engines.
Post titles should reflect what your post is about. The first title that springs to mind for a post may be creative and quirky, which may be appealing for your regular readers, but it’s not necessarily going to do much to help new readers find you. It should be very clear from your title what your post’s topic is, and it should incorporate the keywords you’re using throughout your post. You can help your cause even more by using long-tail keywords, which we’ll talk about shortly.
With length, you’re aiming for Goldilocks—not too short, not too long. A plugin will tell you exactly how long it should be, but as a general rule of thumb, in the WP editor for desktop, your title should be about 75-100% of the first line for the title.
Headings create structure for your posts, and this helps search engines to understand the subject matter that the post covers. Your post’s title uses an H1 heading. Major headings within your post should be H2, and then subheadings can be H3, or H4 if another level of heading is needed. If you want to adjust the font size of your headings, adjust that within the blog settings rather than switching to a lower level heading (i.e. don’t change an H2 heading to an H4 just for the sake of making the font smaller).
Besides helping search engines understand a post, they also make it easier for your readers to follow along. Try to have heading or subheading sections no longer than 300 words, and make your headings reflective of the topic.
To help search engines recognize that your images are relevant to your post, you can do a couple of things:
- Use descriptive file names: If your file name is not descriptive, such as containing a bunch of numbers, it makes it harder for search engines to understand, and it also makes it harder for you if you’re trying to search for the image later on. Instead, create file names that reflect what the image is.
- Use alt text: The main purpose of alt text is to describe for visually impaired users what your image is, but it also helps search engines to recognize what your image is about. Try to make the alt text reflect the topic of your post.
Page loading speed is a key metric that Google uses to evaluate pages, and big image files can really slow this down. The post Making the Most of Your WordPress Media Storage Space has tips on how to minimize the size of your images, thus speeding up page loading.
Once you publish a post, its URL has 3 components: your domain name, the date published, and the slug, which is specific to that post. WordPress automatically sets the slug to match your post title, but you can change this in the “more options” section of the post settings.
Search engines like it when a slug is concise and gives a good idea of what the post is about. If you’re using an SEO plugin, such as Yoast, it will give you feedback on the length, but in general, you want it to be short and sweet. It should probably involve 5 words or less, and it should reflect what your post is about.
If the title of the post was quite wordy, e.g. The Top Ten Search Engine Optimization Strategies You Should Be Using With Your Blog, the automatically generated slug would be really long, and I’d probably cut it down to top-seo-strategies.
The internet is all about interconnectedness, and links are how those connections happen. Here we’ll talk about three different kinds of links, internal, external, and backlinks, that help your blog be connected.
Internal links are those that connect to other posts/pages on your site. They show search engines that different parts of your site are well-connected and relevant to one another, and they give readers a chance to check out some of your other content.
You can do this by listing a couple of related posts at the end of the post, or you could work it into the main body of the post. When I’ve finished writing the post, I’ll read through it and add internal links wherever I’ve written about topics I’ve written about before. If there are one or two related posts I want to make stand out, I’ll add them in a WordPress block at the end of the post.
At the end of every week, I take a look at the posts I’ve written that week, and I’ll go back to any relevant older posts and add links there to the new content.
Eternal links point to other websites. If you’re mentioning another blogger, include a link to their blog. If you’re using a photo from Pixabay, link to Pixabay, or if you’re mentioning something you found on Wikipedia, link to Wikipedia. These links help to establish to search engines that your blog isn’t alone in the wilderness, and it can show that you’re using authoritative sources for your information. External links also give readers a way to look further into things that you’ve mentioned.
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. Social shares also help. This post on Ways to Build Backlinks and Boost Domain Authority has tips on how to accumulate more.
Keywords are search terms that people might plug into Google if they were trying to find an article like yours. Keyword research is huge among SEO and marketing gurus, but for personal bloggers, I think that it’s probably better to write what you want to write naturally, and then tweak it later on as needed.
Search engines look more closely at the beginning of your posts to try to understand what they’re about. In particular, your first paragraph should make it clear what your subject matter is and incorporate your keyword(s).
Alt text and headings are also places where you’ll want to try to fit in your keyword(s). Don’t go overboard, though; if it looks like you’re artificially “keyword-stuffing,” search engines aren’t going to be impressed. If you’ve got 5 headings, don’t use your keyword in all 5. To avoid a lot of repetition within the body of your post, try using variations of a word some of the time. For example, in a post on SEO, write out search engine optimization some of the time so SEO doesn’t show up 30 times during your post.
I find the concept of long-tail keywords useful in choosing post-titles. This is based on the idea that a lot of people don’t just search using a couple of words, they search for a phrase or a question. The more specific you get, the more likely you are to rank higher.
For example, if I do a post and call it Aromatherapy and Mental Health, it’s going to get lost in the millions of other sites that talk about aromatherapy and mental health. However, let’s say my post title is “does ylang ylang help with depression?” No one else is talking about that exact thing. Sure, people aren’t going to search for it as often as they search for aromatherapy & MH, but when they do, I’ll show up on search results page 1, as opposed to 987,654.
By keeping search queries in mind when coming up with post titles, you can make it easier for the people who are looking for your kind of content to find it. I tend to have success with post titles that are phrased as questions.
Webmaster tools allow you to see how often your posts are appearing in searches, what search terms are sending people your way, and various other bits of information about how search engines see your sites. To set these up, you’ll need to:
- sign up for webmaster tools accounts with:
- verify that you own your site using your WordPress editing dashboard:
- in My Sites, go to Tools > Marketing > Traffic tab
- scroll down to Site Verification Services – there’s a link to a WP article explaining how to do the setup
I focus on Google Search Console, as that’s where I get most of my search engine traffic. It will tell me things like how often my posts are showing up in searches, what the search terms are, and how often people are clicking through.
Does any of this matter?
For a lot of people, no, it doesn’t. However, a lot of these things are helpful to your readers, so that’s one reason. If you do want to grow your blog and bring in some traffic from search engines, starting to implement these SEO basics early on can save you a lot of time going back and trying to update things. For me, getting substantial traffic from Google was a long, slow build.
In the grand scheme of things, though, no blogger needs to do any of this. The world is not going to come crashing down just because you have a 2000-word slug. And if you do want to incorporate some SEO strategies, don’t get so caught up in it that the content becomes secondary. Always write what you want to write; that’s what really matters on any blog.