by Juan Robin II
Organic search remains an important way to generate traffic for your blog.
It’s an essential part of blog marketing and in the following post we’ll show you the steps and tools you need to optimize your posts to help rank your blog.
Let’s get started.
1. SEO friendly blog design
Did you know that building a beautifully-designed website can be just as important to search engine rankings as site architecture and knocking out high-quality content?
But what exactly should you pay attention to? To help you, I’ve put together a list of ten elements for good blog design that are also proven to help your search engine rankings.
1. Keep important content above the fold
This is pretty standard, and some would even argue that it’s not that important since people are trained to scroll, but in my own tests and the tests of others, I’ve seen it proven over and over again. So, keep the important information in those top 768 pixels. Research has shown that people do scroll, but they actually spend 80% of their time above the fold and only 20% below.
This brings us to the topic of sliders, which are pretty popular. I’m not a fan of sliders because they tend to confuse the user. When a user arrives on a page and the real estate above the fold is dominated by a slider, the hunt is on.
That’s never a good user experience.
Instead, if you decide to use a slider, make sure that its position is justified. In other words, make sure that a slider is the most important thing you want a user to see/do when he or she arrives at your website/blog.
For example, it might be justified to use a slider to feature your top products or top content on a site. It’s justified on Entrepreneur:
But notice how the user stays in complete control. That is another essential factor you must keep in mind when creating a slider.
In the case of Quick Sprout, the important information is two-fold: the latest blog post and the call-to-action for a free report. So, always determine what is the single purpose of the page…and then make sure it is above the fold.
2. Keep the number of links on a page under 100
While Google recommends that you keep the number of links on a page under 100, this is not for search purposes, but design and user experience purposes. In fact, Matt Cutts published a page with close to 200 links on it.
Why does Google recommend you limit the number of links to 100? It used to be that Google would only index up to 100 kilobytes of a page…that equalled to about 100 links. Now Google can easily index a page much larger than that.
So, what happens if you decide to place more than 100 links on a page? Google might crawl you and look at you like a spammer.
However, what you do might be legitimate, and having over a hundred links, like Cutts does, can also work if it is justified. In that case, you will only pass on a limited amount of PageRank because there are tons of links on that page.
How the user experiences the page is more important these days than PageRank or pure SEO measures, so limiting 100 links to a page is a good idea.
3. Create hub pages
One of the best ways to get your content out of the archives and delivering SEO value to your site is by creating a hub page of your best content.
For example, you could divide content into beginner, novice and expert advice on a particular topic and then link to all that content on a single page. You could also break it down by themes like Problogger does on its Archive page:
Why is this important? For two reasons: it’s important for user experience, but it also gives your old pages new life, thus bringing a sluggish low-performing page back up to search engine significance.
4. Limit your ad space
It’s plain and simple: when it comes to designing your blog for awesome SEO, you’ve got to limit the number of ads you use. If you don’t, you’ll slow down your load time, which will hurt your traffic.
From a user standpoint, people despise ads and give a thumbs down to sites with too many of them. If you absolutely must use ads, then look at your analytics to determine the top two or three highest-performing ads, and then cut the rest.
5. Design your site for speed
Next, you’ll want to evaluate your site speed. It’s been shown that users who can search faster are happier. In fact, Google found out that slowing down search results by as little as 400 milliseconds will actually reduce the number of searches by over half a percent.
In the SEO realm, however, speed isn’t as much of an important signal as the relevance of a page is. But like with most things online, when it comes to speed, problems can accumulate. So, you need to fix as many of them as you possibly can, speed being one of them.
How fast is your site? Use Google’s Page Speed tool. This is what I came up with when I tested Quick Sprout:
The report, which takes less than five seconds to generate (maybe more on larger sites), showed me recommendations that ranged from experimental to high priority. I don’t know about you, but I find that very helpful.
Click on the link “enable compression,” and you get this page:
As you can see, I need to get to work.
Another tool to measure the speed of your site is Site Performance page inside Webmaster Tools. You can find out how people use your site around the world, what kind of response time they have on the site, what monthly trends are and recommendations on improving site speed.
Since the only expense to improve your site speed is how much sweat you invest, it pays to do it.
6. Keep your images small
I can’t express enough how important images are to web content these days. This is why I’ve written articles like Forget Blogging as Usual, which demonstrate that to draw in readers, you need to provide images and graphics.
But a bloated image can slow that page download, thus decreasing site speed. So, the simplest way to do this is to save images as .jpgs and text/headers as .gifs. If you have an image that’s not a .jpg, use a tool to save it as a .jpg.
The Performance Golden Rule says that 80%-90% of user experience is based on downloading images, stylesheets, flash, etc., thus it’s a good idea to spread that content over multiple servers using a Content Delivery Network like Akamai
A CDN is a set of servers that cache your web objects like scripts, URLs, text and graphics, in effect increasing bandwidth, which reduces site latency and stress on a single server. In other words, you improve site speed.
7. Design your navigation for UX and SEO
Navigation is both important to your user and to search. Spiders crawl navigation to help them determine the architecture of the site, much like the site map.
Instead, you need to use standard HTML and CSS to get the best of both worlds. But you can get away with adding visual appeal to a HTML/CSS nav bar using Flash like the Atlanta Botanical Garden did:
8. Use breadcrumbs
Like navigation, both search engines and users find breadcrumbs useful. Users find them useful to locate where they are on your site, especially if they came through a deep page.
Here’s an example of what you shouldn’t do:
That’s a little confusing from a UX viewpoint, don’t you think? Of course, Google gets it:
The arrows show you the direction of the hierarchy from parent to child, and each set is a link, with the terminating page not being a link. Search engines find this method useful because it helps them categorize content appropriately.
9. Build beauty into your web design
As the age of sentiment search grows, user experience will help determine how a search engine will rank a website.
Let’s say people find their way to your blog through a search. They land on your page, look around, do not like what they see because it is shoddily designed and then bounce out of there. Google, for example, will then ask whether they want to block that search result or not. If the user chooses to block it, then you are doomed. That’s a mark against you.
But let’s say, they don’t block it. Google is still going to wonder why the user bounced off the page and ended back up on the search results again. It’s likely to count against you. That’s why you need to design your site to attract and keep the users. This starts with a well-designed site.
I’ve spent years testing different designs of Quick Sprout, looking for that optimized look. When you are testing, the most important things you need to test for are page views, time on page and bounce rate. Design a beautiful site to lower those rates.
10. Crawl and validate your site
As a sort of review when it comes to designing an awesome website for search engine optimization, you need to crawl and validate your site to determine where you are.
What should you test and how? Well, here’s a checklist to help you see what needs to be crawled and validated…and then I’ll share with you a tool to help you do just that. You must validate:
- Accessibility (Section 508 and WAI Standards)
- Dead links
- Multiple browsers
- Multiple devices
You can use the Crawl Tools by SEOmoz or the W3C validation tools to test your website and find all the documents that need to be fixed in priority.
Once you’ve tested and identified all the problems, prioritize, fix and then re-test. Fix again and then, instead of using tools to re-validate, have family and friends test the site to get the user’s angle on your site.
2. Optimize Blog Posts
People are looking for information online. Blogging is one way to feed the demand for information.
Optimizing your blog posts for organic search accomplishes two things:
- Creates content your target audience wants and needs
- Communicates what your content is to search engines so they can share it with your target audience
Whenever you’re creating online content you want to think about the reader first. For the most part, when you focus on the reader the SEO part of the equation will be taken care of without much effort.
But there are some important steps to take to optimize your blog posts so that you communicate with the search engines so they can rank your posts.
For this post we’ll cover only relevant information and provide the steps for optimizing your blog posts for SEO.
Here are those steps.
Note: We won’t spend much time on the basics like title, URL, etc. There are countless posts on those topics, but we will include them because they are essential to effective blog SEO.
1. Keyword And Focus
When marketing your blog posts you’ll often be covering the topics that your target audience is looking for online. You’ll be writing about hot topics, trends and common industry questions. You’ll also be doing keyword research to find out what your audience is searching for on search engines.
When creating each blog post you want to have one main keyword phrase in mind for each post. From that one focus keyword phrase you might have additional secondary keyword phrases. In most cases, you’ll naturally use the secondary keywords when you write the post, but if you’re cognizant of them ahead of time you can make sure to include them.
An example might be writing a post for the keyword phrase “living room design”. That is your focus keyword.
Secondary keyword phrases might include:
- “modern living room design”
- “vintage living room design”
- “living room design inspiration”
You get the picture.
From your blog post ideas you’ll need to extrapolate the main keyword focus.
Once you do that you can create or recreate your title.
2. A Great Title
It could be argued that the title is the most important piece of your blog.
Obviously the content needs to be outstanding, but if your title isn’t appealing nobody is going to click to read the content whether it’s from a link on social media, a search result or anything else.
To capture attention your title has to be intriguing to your target audience. It has to really entice them to want to click.
And on the other side, you want the title to be optimized for SEO. After all, the title needs to be relevant to the target audience and it needs to communicate to the search engines what the post is about.
Some say you can’t do both, but it is possible if you know the secret.
Here are some examples of catchy titles:
- Are You Making These Common Living Room Design Mistakes?
- 101 Inspirational Living Room Design Trends
- 25 Modern Living Room Design Tips From The Experts
Each of these titles uses a specific formula known for getting clicks (and there are many others) while also using the focus keyword phrase.
Types of posts that demand clicks include:
Also notice that the last title in the list is an example of the type of posts that are easy to market. It includes tips from experts. You can interview experts in the industry and get them to share the post once it’s published.
Here are a few rules for finalizing your title:
- Keep it under 60 characters
- Use the focus keyword once
- Don’t stuff it with keywords
Even though title tags are based on pixel count width rather than a number of characters, it’s worth keeping titles to 60 characters or less.
Keep titles natural, relevant and clear for readers.
3. URL Structure
There are a few theories on creating URLs for blog posts.
One school of thought is to use full title as your URL.
Let’s say you chose the title:
101 Inspirational Living Room Design Trends
Your URL ending would become: /101-inspirational-living-room-design-trends/
This is a fine title.
The other thought is that shorter URLs are better. So to keep it short you would use the URL: /inspirational-living-room-design/
Both are valid, but you don’t want to come across as blatantly targeting what you think search engines want. Create the URL to provide the most relevant information to your audience. When they see the URL they should instantly know what the post is about.
A few rules for creating blog URLs:
- Avoid using the date in the URL unless it’s absolutely imperative that you need to avoid duplication with another URL on your website or blog
- Use dashes instead of underscores
- Use all lowercase letters instead of uppercase or proper case
4. META Description
The meta description is another important element for encouraging clicks from search engine results. The major item people see on the search engine result pages is the title.
Along with the title there are now more visual elements such as video screenshots and author avatars resulting from Google Authorship, which are all referred to as rich snippets.
But a secondary item on the SERPs is the description.
This is the smaller text under the Title that describes in more detail what is on the page.
When writing your descriptions you want to share a little bit of what the reader will find in the full article. Entice their interest. Use the focus keyword phrase.
Keep it under 160 characters. Don’t stuff it with keywords. Write as if you were writing an introductory paragraph for your article.
The purpose is to convince the searcher to click through to your post.
It’s a simple thing, but headings are something easy to overlook when formatting your blog posts.
Books have chapters for a reason.
Chapters break up the content. It’s easier to digest content when it comes in segments.
Blog post headings make it easier for the reader to digest.
That’s one reason to use headings in your blog posts and it’s a big reason, but another important reason to including headings in your blog posts is for organic search optimization.
Using your main focus keyword and secondary keywords in the headings gives the reader hints as to what the content is about when they scan your article. And the search engines use it as a signal too.
6. Internal Linking
Internal links help market you blog posts as readers read your blog posts.
When someone is done reading your content you have to give him or her a next step. If you link to 4 or 5 previous blog posts you give the reader something to do next and it benefits you. They continue to read your content. They stay on your site. You continue to build that trust and relationship that leads to a sale.
Again, blog readers appreciate internal links as long as it’s not overdone. And because readers show preference toward internal linking, search engines do as well.
Internal linking gives search engines an indication of relevant content on your blog. By linking from an authoritative post on your blog to another relevant post you indicate that both posts are important.
Internal links can also increase traffic and time on site, which are two additional indicators search engines use to gauge the relevance and authority of your blog.
3. Use WordPress SEO Plugins
WordPress is the most popular blogging content management system available.
One reason WordPress is popular is because of the community of developers it has. The software comes with a huge market for free and premium plugins.
We covered, in detail, WordPress and necessary plugins that make your WordPress site an SEO powerhouse. We’ll add a few to the list for blog marketing purposes as it relates to organic search.
1. Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin
It’s the best SEO plugin for your blog. In another post on SEO we covered the detailed items you want to take care of to make your blog optimized for organic search.
Yoast is a free plugin. That’s a bonus. It’s been downloaded nearly 7 million times as of this writing. With over 3,000 reviews it has nearly a perfect 5 out of 5 rating on WordPress.
You can do just about everything with this plugin when it comes to optimizing your blog posts.
2. Google XML Sitemaps
Google XML Sitemaps is a simple plugin. You don’t have to do much to set it up, but it gives Google the information it needs to know what is on your site. (be sure to disable Yoast sitemaps if you use this plugin alongside it so you do not create duplicate XML sitemaps)
3. W3 Total Cache
Site speed is a huge factor in website and blog success. People expect your site to load quickly. There is nothing more frustrating to someone than waiting and waiting for content to load. Too many WordPress blogs take too long to load.
Getting a quality WordPress host will be a big help, but adding the W3 Total Cache will add another layer of improvement.
4. Hunt For Links
For this part we’ll stick to how you can hunt for links for the blog posts you create.
1. Go To Popular Blogs In Your Industry
Go to the popular blogs in your industry. You probably have a few that you know and follow already. To find a few more search for “your industry” + blog and you should get a good list of blogs to use.
2. Look For Blogs That Publish Trackbacks
A common item used by most blogs is the trackback. This is a blog’s way of showing appreciation for a link. When another blog or website links to the post there is a trackback listed near the comments on the original post.
From your list of industry blogs, create a list of blogs that allow trackbacks.
3. Find The Most Popular Posts On Those Blogs
From the list of blogs that allow trackbacks, look for the most popular posts. These will be the ones with the most social shares, comments and tracks.
4. Create Content Better Than The Popular Posts
Now you know the type of posts that are popular with your target audience. Your goal now is to create blog posts that go beyond those popular posts. Add more valuable content to the topic with your blog post.
This will obviously take time, but it will be worth it because you’ll be able to build even more links than the original blog generated.
5. Build A List Of People To Contact From The Trackbacks
Once you have your content created you can go back to the trackbacks and parse through the information. Some will be from smaller blogs that would be nice to get a link from, but not ideal. Others will be from huge websites that may or may not link to your post.
Then there is the sweet spot. These are the blogs in the middle that have pretty good clout, but aren’t big enough to ignore your emails.
6. Email The Bloggers From The Trackback List
Once you have your list of sweet spot blogs you can email them letting them know about the new, amazing piece of content you’ve created.
Mention that you saw that they commented/linked to the original blog post. Then mention that you’ve taken the topic even further with an advanced or more in-depth post.
Leave it at that. If you’ve done a good job a few will link to your post.
5. Blog Consistently and Keep With It
I’ve been blogging for longer than ten years.
Ten years! And I haven’t quit.
That’s a long time.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here. I simply want to make a point.
Why haven’t I stopped blogging? After all, I get tons of traffic from old blog posts that I wrote two, four, and even eight years ago.
Why do I keep at it? Writing is punishing work. It’s tough, and it takes a long time. Don’t I have better stuff to do like binge-watching Netflix or just relaxing?
Why am I so devoted to blogging?
I’ll let you in on a secret. I actually love what I do. That’s one reason. I blog because I like to do it.
But there’s another reason. It’s a business reason. And it’s built on data.
If you know anything about SEO, you know that Google values fresh content. Fresh content is a significant factor in positively influencing ratings. The logic here is that the more frequently you update your site, the more frequently Googlebot (Google’s crawling bot) visits your site.
In turn, this gives you the opportunity to achieve better rankings.
Although you can update your site in several different ways (not to mention all the different types of content you can create), writing new blog posts tends to be the simplest way to generate fresh content.
So let’s go back to my question: why do I keep blogging? Why are you blogging? Should you quit? Should I quit? Are there better ways to do marketing, gain traffic, and grow conversions?
Is blogging truly all it’s cracked up to be? More specifically, just how big of an impact does it have on SEO?
In this article, I’m going to do away with niceties, guesses, and “best practice” advice. Instead, I’m going to dish up the data so you can get the cold, hard facts on what happens if you decide to stop blogging.
Some key stats
First, here are just a few statistics from Kapost to put blogging in perspective:
- 1.26 billion live websites exist right now. The number only continues to grow.
- Blogs give websites 434 percent more indexed pages and 97 percent more indexed links.
- Nearly 50 percent of B2B buyers read between three and five blog posts before they reach out to sales.
- B2B companies that blog generate 67 percent more leads per month than those that do not blog.
These are some legit numbers. They show just how monumental of an impact blogging can have.
But what would happen if you stopped blogging?
You pull the plug. You quit. You’re done. No more publishing.
What would happen?
Would it have any catastrophic consequences, or would it merely be a mild impediment?
Let’s take a look at a study that put this to the test.
251 days of no blogging
WordPress developer/social media manager/SEO expert Robert Ryan conducted a simple yet enlightening experiment.
In 2015, he refrained from posting any new content on his blog for 251 days. That’s eight months and seven days.
Here are some of his key findings:
- Overall traffic to the site saw a major decline as it fell by 32 percent.
- Organic traffic dropped by a massive 42 percent.
- Traffic to the contact page was down by 15 percent.
- Overall site conversions fell by 28 percent.
What can we take away from these stats?
Blogging affects overall traffic
When Ryan quit blogging, his traffic rapidly fell by 32%.
The image quality is low, but here’s the chart that he posted:
The fact that Ryan’s overall traffic dropped by nearly a third during this time is tangible evidence that there’s a correlation between your blog output and your overall traffic volume.
Quite frankly, I find it a bit alarming to see such a dramatic drop just because of not blogging.
Of course, we should keep in mind that his experiment lasted for over eight months.
If you stopped blogging for only a month or two, the consequences probably wouldn’t be this extreme.
However, it still wouldn’t do you any favors.
This brings up a good point. What if your business runs into trouble, you get sick, or something else happens that prevents you from blogging for a time?
I suggest having a backlog of articles to publish at all times. I like to have several posts scheduled ahead of time. If something unexpected comes up, at least I know my posts will go live according to the schedule.
Organic traffic can take a massive hit
A 42 percent drop in organic traffic is colossal.
For some businesses, that kind of drop could make the difference between making money and losing money.
An organic traffic loss of that magnitude is similar to receiving an algorithmic penalty.
Most websites earn most of their traffic organically.
If you’re in the “business services” industry, you earn a disproportionate amount of organic traffic.
Where does all this organic traffic come from?
It comes from content. More specifically, it comes from blogging.
Organic traffic is nothing to wink at. This is the lifeline of your business. This is your audience.
It’s hard to dispute that Google does indeed show preference to sites with consistently fresh content.
As Moz explains,
“Websites that add new pages at a higher rate may earn a higher freshness score than sites that add content less frequently.”
It’s all theoretical, of course. No one knows exactly how Google’s algorithm works.
But we can’t dispute the fact that quitting a blog leads to an organic traffic nosedive.
By having a dynamic site (publishing content) as opposed to a static one (not publishing new content), you provide Google with new content to crawl and index. In turn, this keeps you on Google’s radar in a positive way.
You also have to consider the fact that each new blog post presents an opportunity to generate more backlinks and rank for additional keywords.
I imagine that you want to see an uptick in traffic like this:
The fact is, you can’t get traffic like that unless you blog like you mean it.
When you stop blogging for an extended period of time, your stream of organic traffic can dry up, which can obviously have some undesirable consequences.
More blogging equals more leads
The stat from Kapost, stating that brands with 15 blog posts per month average 1,200 new leads per month, and Ryan’s stat—stating that traffic to his contact page fell by 15 percent—show us just how intertwined blogging and lead generation really are.
This makes sense when you think about it.
No blogging means much less organic and overall traffic. In turn, fewer visitors are landing on your website, which means fewer leads.
Blogging, quite obviously, leads to more leads.
Notice this data from MarketingCharts.com. Their data shows that a higher blogging frequency is positively correlated with higher customer acquisition rates.
Quitting blogging is a conversion killer
The final and perhaps most alarming of Ryan’s findings was the drop in overall site conversions (28 percent).
I can connect the dots to see how this could happen.
Few people blog just for the heck of it. We blog because it makes a significant difference.
We blog because it builds conversions.
But how does this work? How is blogging so inextricably linked to conversions?
From my experience, I’ve found blogging to be an incredibly effective way to build rapport with my audience and get them comfortable with the idea of buying.
For example, before a prospect would want to go ahead and purchase Crazy Egg, there’s a good chance that they would first want to explore “The Daily Egg,” which is the accompanying blog.
I don’t sell anything on that blog. I just provide value, value, value.
In fact, two stats from Aabaco found that “60 percent of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content on its site.”
It’s about fostering positive feelings, as vague as that sounds.
Furthermore, “78 percent of consumers believe that companies behind content are interested in building good relationships.”
Good relationships are built one blog post at a time.
If you blog the right way, you can demonstrate transparency.
Transparency, in turn, creates trust.
There’s no secret here. If you want to truly influence purchases (conversions), you should be blogging.
Customers look to content to grow and sustain positivity and goodwill towards the brand.
This positivity and goodwill influences conversions. You’ll earn more conversions because you are blogging. It’s that simple.
I would also make the point that stopping blogging out of the blue can make you look a little flaky in the eyes of customers. Some may even wonder if you’re still in business.
No one wants to do business with a place that seems quiet and untended. You might still be in business, but if your blog isn’t buzzing with new content and activity, users might get the idea that you’re not around to serve them.
This will kill your conversions.
For these reasons, you can see how a lack of blogging can slowly trickle down to hurt conversions and eventually result in a considerable decline in customers.
Jeff Bullas provides an excellent explanation of how blogging builds credibility in this infographic:
These aren’t just random stats. These are concrete data-driven signals that your blog builds your credibility.
And your credibility as a business influences whether or not people will buy from you.
While I can’t say for sure that you would experience the same level of backlash that Ryan did, it’s fair to say that quitting blogging for an extended period of time isn’t going to help you.
Even going a single month without an update could throw a wrench in your SEO.
For this reason, I can’t stress enough just how important it is to be consistent with publishing blogs.
Everyone has their own opinion on what the bare minimum is, but most bloggers would agree that you should strive for at least one per week.
A blog such as the Huffington Post (yes, it’s a blog) publishes an article a minute. They can do that because they have a ton of semi-free and syndicated content being pushed out.
If you’re Forbes, you might publish more than 1,000 articles a month.
Obviously, you won’t be able to keep pace with Forbes or Huffpo, especially if you’re blogging for your personal brand.
Instead, you should focus on consistency. As this article shows, when you quit blogging, your traffic and conversions tank.
If you stay consistent, you’ll win.
Organic search remains a major source of traffic for blogs. Following the tips in this post will help set your blog up for success with organic search.
In general, write in-depth articles that are seen as better than any other source of content by your target audience. If you create something better than everyone else you’ll have no issue achieving good results in the organic rankings.
Use WordPress and its free and premium plugins to optimize your blog, pages and posts. It can help clean up the content so you’re communicating correctly with the engines.
Finally, create the type of content that is most shared and linked to by your target audience and influencers in your industry. Links remain a major part of the organic search algorithms so getting those key links over time will benefit your blog.
Blogging accomplishes much more than simply demonstrating your expertise and building trust.
It plays a major role in SEO, and the frequency of your blogging can determine how much traffic you bring in, how many leads you generate, and ultimately how many conversions you make.
If you want to win at the game of online marketing, you’ve got to be publishing content.
And you can’t stop.
Internet marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. As a ten-year veteran of this sprint, I can attest to the fact that it gets ugly and tiring, and there are times when you want to quit.
But I can also attest to the fact that your hard work pays off.
Sure, at times you might feel like you’re banging your head against a wall, but all that work is doing something. It’s growing your audience. It’s building trust. It’s pushing up conversions bit by bit, day by day, month by month.