The hours of diligent studying have paid off; you’ve got your first gig as a freelance blogger! You know you should be excited, and you have a great idea for a post.
But your head is full of doubts. Is it enough to just write a post? Will my client’s audience be able to find it? What happens if no one reads it?
You’re scared your client will think you’re an amateur. But there is good news! Improving the visibility of web content in search results is no secret, nor will it take you weeks to learn how to do it.
In fact, you can optimize your blog posts and make them search engine friendly in six steps using some simple SEO techniques.
Why optimize your blog post?
Search engine optimization refers to the techniques used to influence the visibility of web content in search results. For this reason, SEO has a bit of a bad reputation. Bloggers often associate it with black hat practices and crap, keyword-stuffed content.
Let me put your mind at rest. These six techniques are not about tricking search engines. They’re about emphasising to search engines and readers how useful and relevant your post is to search queries.
It is important you always write for the benefit of your readers, not robots. But, by applying these SEO friendly practices to your post, you can ensure it doesn’t get overlooked.
Search engine algorithms are designed to identify and rank quality content higher in search results, so if you want people to find your post via a search, you must highlight its value. And, if you want readers to click-through from the results page to read your post in full, you must ensure it’s more enticing than other listings. So, don’t just write a blog post, write an optimized post that’ll seduce readers to click, read and engage.
1. Mimic the language of your readers, keywords and all
Keywords are words and phrases of significance that people type into search engines to identify information. Although Google no longer relies on scanning these words to index web content, readers do. They quickly identify relevant keywords or phrases in search results and use them to determine the best match to their query.
So don’t let your well-crafted blog post get overlooked. Use the same language your target audience is using to search for information. Tools like Google Adwords keyword planner or Semrush can help you determine the keywords people use most frequently in searches. They can also help you identify redundant terms so you can avoid them.
But you don’t have to use just short words and phrases. Some keywords are very competitive, so rather than avoid them altogether, try using a long-tail keyword in your post instead. For example, rather than using a broad, highly competitive term like ‘marketing’, make it more specific such as ‘marketing for small businesses’, or ‘marketing for e-commerce’. Your post will now be more attractive to readers who are more likely to have typed a question into a search engine than a single broad term.
Once you have some keywords in mind that would be a good fit for your blog post, work them naturally into your writing. But never include them for the sake of SEO alone. It will spoil the reader’s experience and make your writing look unprofessional.
While you don’t need to hit a certain quota to see results, keywords can be more effective if you include them in specific places in your post. These include: the heading, URL, main body, meta description, alt and anchor text; as will be explained below.
2. Create an attention grabbing headline and useful subheadings
Many bloggers concentrate on crafting the main body of their post and consider the headline and subheadings an afterthought. Don’t make this mistake! Your headline appears in many different places, not just search result listings, so make sure it stands out.
Search engines and readers also assign more importance to a blog post’s headline than any other variable. They use it along with the subheadings to identify the purpose of the content and to determine its relevance to queries. So avoid making headlines vague, clever or confusing. Focus instead on conveying primary information about your post and demonstrating its value to your audience. For this reason, you should also include any keywords, terms or queries here.
While there is no single formula or trick to the perfect title, Neil Patel suggests using U qualities to create a unique, ultra-specific, useful or urgent headline.
Jeff Goins, on the other hand, advocates a more precise catchy headline writing formula: number/trigger word (why, how, when) + adjective (free, essential) + keyword + promise (secrets, tricks, etc.).
While the aim of your headline is to draw your readers in when they see it on a results page or anywhere else, your subheadings should signpost your content. Not only does this make your post scannable and more appealing to your audience, but it also acts as a guide, shepherding them through your post from start to finish.
If you’re responsible for uploading your post to your client’s website, make sure you use the correct heading tags. Search engines use these to rank the importance of information on a page. For example use H1 for headings and H2 and H3 for subheadings.
3. Sell your post with an enticing meta description
Essentially, a meta description is a small pitch that provides a short, enticing description of a piece of content. It will appear when your post shows up in search results and when it is shared to sites like Facebook.
While a good meta description won’t improve your placement in search results, it is does provide a great opportunity to ‘sell’ your post to potential readers.
If you upload your post directly to your client’s site, you can add a description by entering it into the meta description box in their CMS or by using an SEO plugin such as Yoast. If your client uploads the content, why not suggest a suitable description when you submit the post for their review.
Either way, to ensure your description is effective, make sure:
- It is concise – less than 155 characters.
- It is unique – if you write several articles for one client, produce a different meta description for each post.
- It uses action focused language to encourage click-throughs e.g. verbs like ‘learn’, ‘understand’, ‘discover’.
- It grabs the reader’s attention by stating any solutions, benefits or key points in your post.
- It includes your keywords. If a search query matches the meta description for your post, Google will highlight the search terms in the listing, making it more attractive to readers.
- It avoids non-alphanumeric characters as Google will cut off the description from that point.
4. Position your post as an authority and be helpful by including links
Two types of links are useful here: internal links which direct readers to other content like older blog posts on your client’s site; and external links which direct users to content on other websites.
It’s important you include links to optimize your post. Firstly, it gives readers a better experience, by directing them to other sources they may find useful. And secondly, it gives search engines a better idea of what your post is about and its relevance to search queries.
You can use links for a number reasons such as: to define or explain terms, facilitate a call-to-action, credit sources, or to provide additional information for your readers.
To ensure the links you include promote the value of your post:
- Select only purposeful and useful sources. For inspiration search Google, your RSS feed, your client’s blog or try a plugin like Zemanta, which can suggest related links for a post.
- Position your content as an authoritative source by linking to influential sites and people in your client’s niche. There’s also a chance an influencer may share and recommend your content to their network if they like what they see!
- Include an internal link to existing content on your client’s website. Not only will this drive traffic to older posts, but it will also show your client you’ve taken the time to check out their archive.
- Adhere to proper blogging etiquette. If you reference someone else’s content, a site or tool in your post, provide a link to it.
- Avoid cluttering your post with lots of links. It makes it harder to read and can make it look suspicious to search engines.
- Only link to a source once when you first mention it in your post (additional links are redundant).
- Position important links at the beginning of your post as this is where they’ll attract the most attention from search engines and readers.
- Set links to open in a new window to keep readers on your client’s website for longer and allow them to finish reading your post before moving on to explore a resource.
5. Add value to your links with meaningful anchor text
Anchor text is the word or words you make clickable when you insert a hyperlink. It may seem like a trivial detail, but search engine spiders crawl anchor text and use it as an additional factor when deciphering how relevant and useful a piece of content is.
The text you use here can also influence whether or not readers follow the links in your post and whether they engage with or share it. Make sure you take this opportunity to draw attention to the value of your blog post by making anchor text meaningful.
It’s easy to do, just describe the link and blend it naturally into your content. For example, if you were writing a post about freelance blogging and linking to a post about paid blogger opportunities, rather than using vague, generic terms like ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ use instead ‘get paid to write’ or ‘how to get hired to blog’, to entice your readers to follow your link.
Meaningful anchor text can also increase the chance of your post featuring in search results for other related queries, increasing its exposure and, in turn, readership.
6. Make your images discoverable with alt text
Alt text is the text shown when an image doesn’t load. It allows a reader to understand what the image is about in the absence of the actual image itself. It is especially useful for people using screen readers because of a visual impairment.
Alt text is also important because search engines can’t ‘see’ images in your content. Instead, they use this text to establish the meaning of images and consider it as an additional factor when determining the relevancy of your post.
Think of alt text, like a caption for a photo. Make it a unique, concise description of the image. Keep it under 16 words and if relevant mention the topic of your post and your keyword.
Alt text is easy to add, just enter it into the relevant field when you upload an image. Or, as before, include it as a suggestion when you submit your post to your client.
Here is an example of alt text that could be used for the image below:
How to add a new blog post: a partial capture of the WordPress dashboard.
So there you have it. No tricks, no black magic. Blog post optimization is simply about drawing attention to the value of your post and making it easier for search engine bots to determine the relevancy of your content to user’s queries.
Hopefully, you also feel less anxious and more confident now you know how to make your post discoverable.
Remember, freelance blogging — like any skill — is a process of trial and error. What works for one client, might not work for another. Go forward with confidence and don’t be afraid to try out new techniques.
Do you use SEO in your blog posts or do you give it a wide berth? Are there any other tips you can recommend? Let us know in the comments.