For as long as I’ve been writing this column, I’ve been getting requests for a post on SEO tips, which I’ve so far avoided writing – until now.
SEO, you see, is one of those subjects you could write an entire book about (and some people HAVE), without even scratching the surface. It’s also a topic which changes constantly, and which is just a little bit mysterious (I mean, if we all knew EXACTLY how Google works, we’d all be millionaires by now, right?): which makes the idea of me giving out SEO tips feel a little bit like the blind leading the blind, really.
Rather than trying (and almost definitely failing) to give you a complete overview of how SEO works, then, I’m simply going to give you three of the SEO tips which have worked best for me. And here they are…
01. Give your posts one title for search engines and another one for readers.
Most people know that if you want your blog post to rank highly in search engines for a particular word or phrase, it’s a good idea to use that word or phrase in the post title. Makes sense, right? I mean, if you’re writing a review of a moisturiser, say, people are going to be searching for “moisturiser review” or similar: they’re not going to be searching for the lyrics to that song you love right now, no matter how cool you think it sounds.
The problem with this, however, is that titles containing keywords might work well for search engines, but they’re not always attractive to blog readers, or to the people who are following you on social media. To continue the example above, if you’re looking for a moisturiser review, you’ll type “moisturiser review” into a search engine. If you’re NOT looking for a moisturiser review, however, and one pops up on Twitter, Bloglovin’, or the homepage of your favourite blog, you’re probably not going to click on it: it’s just not that compelling a title, is it?
As a blogger, then, your challenge is to write headlines which both contain the keywords people are searching for, AND are interesting enough for your regular followers to want to click on them. And if you CAN’T find a way to do that? Well, you just install the YOAST SEO plugin (assuming you’re using WordPress, that is…), and you give your post one title for readers/followers (i.e. the title which will appear on the post itself, and also in feed readers, etc), and a different title for search engines.
Here’s what it looks like:
Basically you just click on the “edit snippet” link, and type in the title, URL and meta description you want search engines to see. This doesn’t have to be the same title that will appear on the post itself: this post, for instance, appeared on my blog with the title “Can a Mascara Dye Your Eyelashes?”, however, thanks to YOAST SEO, the title search engines see is ‘Rimmel Volume Colourist Mascara – Review and Photos’ – which is much less catchy, huh?
The second title, however, reflects the fact that people who are interested in this particular mascara are likely to be people who’ve already heard of it, and who are looking for reviews. Those people will therefore probably type the product name, plus the word “review” into a search engine – so the SEO title should do its job. The title that appears on the actual post, however (and which was used on social media), is one designed to appeal to people who haven’t heard of the product, and who didn’t even KNOW they were interested in it until they read that title – which hopefully made some of them curious enough to click through, even although they might not have been in the market for a new mascara at the time.
Speaking of social media, the YOAST SEO plugin also gives you the ability to give your post a different title, not just for search engines, but also for Twitter and Facebook. So that one post can effectively have four different titles: clever, no?
(Er, this post is NOT sponsored by YOAST SEO, by the way: I just really like the plugin. Just wanted to make that clear…)
02. Give your images descriptive titles and ALT tags
We all know we need to include keywords in our text if we want our blogs to rank well for those phrases in search engines. What an lot of people forget, however, is that images are almost equally important. Google Images, for instance, is huge source of traffic to my blog, as is Pinterest: and that’s mostly because I try to make sure I include the right keywords when naming my images.
How do you do that? Well, first of all, you have to make sure you ARE actually naming your images in the first place. When you download images from your camera, they’ll normally be called something like ‘DSC-663-863’: which means nothing to anyone, does it? Many bloggers assume this doesn’t matter: a picture is worth a thousand words, after all, so who cares what your photo is called?
Search engines. That’s who cares. Search engines, you see, might be smart, but they’re not THAT smart. They don’t know that your cupcake photo shows a cupcake, and not, say, an elephant. So you have to tell them: and you do that by simply typing in a title and description of the image when you’re uploading it to your blog. Like so:
Of all of these fields, I’d say the ALT tag is probably the most important: not just because of its importance to traditional search engines, but also because this is normally the text that will be used if someone decides to pin the image on Pinterest. When you pin an image, Pinterest gives you the opportunity to type your own description of it: most users, however, don’t bother to do that, and simply use the text which is provided – which is normally pulled from the ALT tag. If the ALT tag is empty, or uses text which doesn’t bear any relation to the subject you’re writing for, it won’t show up when people search Pinterest for your chosen keyword phrase – and you’ll potentially miss out on a ton of traffic.
03. Use sub-headings in your posts
Search engines look at all of the text in your post when deciding how to rank it for a particular keyword phrase, but they pay particular attention to the text you use in titles and sub-headings, considering them to be important indicators of what the post is about.
I’ve covered titles above, but sub-headings are something a lot of bloggers neglect, which is a shame, because not only are they good for SEO (assuming they contain relevant keywords), they’re also an easy way to break up longer posts, and make them easier to read. Your subheadings can’t just be regular old text on a different line from the rest of the post, though: if you do that, search engines won’t be able to tell the difference between text which is supposed to be a heading, and everything else: in order to make the subheadings stand out, then, you have to use a title tag in the HTML of your post.
Luckily, most blog platforms make this super-east for you. In WordPress, for instance, if I want to designate a particular line of text as a subheading, I just highlight the text I want to use, then go to the drop-down box in the text editor, and select the relevant type of heading. In addition to making it clear to search engines that the highlighted text is a heading, these tags also change the appearance of the text, in ways that are determined by the blog theme you’re using. On my blog, for instance, headings are simply larger than the body text: on other themes, however, they might be different font or colour, too, and if you know a little bit about coding, you can normally decide for yourself how you want your subheadings to appear.
A quick disclaimer…
In closing this point, I just want to point out that this is a very, very rough guide to SEO, and these are just three of the things you can do to make it easier for your blog to be picked up by search engines. SEO, however, is something of a dark art, and it changes constantly, so these SEO tips are really just scratching the surface. I did, however, include some more SEO tips in my ebook, which you can buy here : happy reading!