Bloggers and content creators need a lot of help when it comes to SEO.
There are just too many things to consider:
- What factors are the great and powerful Google looking at?
- How relevant is your keyword research?
- What steps should you follow to attract traffic from the most popular search engine in the world?
Well, not to worry. This guide is going to cover all that and more. SEO practices have changed over the years because the Internet has changed. It has matured. Google has matured.
It’s almost scary just how much data it has at its disposal. Throw some artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning into that mix, and you have an extremely smart search engine.
All these changes to how Google goes about its business directly affect your ability to attract organic traffic from them.
This guide is going to provide you with an overview of every single thing that you need to know to fully optimize your blog for search, including the various ranking factors and the resources and tools that will help you achieve the results that you want.
Because of the sheer size of this mega-guide, it’s going to be broken up into 2 parts. Use it as a reference to come back to whenever you need.
OK, let’s get started!
Search Engine Optimization Has Evolved Over the Years
Old tactics like focusing on keyword density in your articles, going out to try to build links, keyword stuffing, and do-follow links are all dead. This is thanks to marketers and SEO firms who killed them by using them as ways of gaming the system.
But search engines matured and evolved – they got wise to the idiotic things that marketers were doing to try to rank their stuff.
Google is forever trying to improve their user experience because when their search results serve the user’s needs, the person will keep using their search engine. So it’s their goal to surface only the best stuff that is relevant to what the user is looking for.
This means that those trying to game the system will be considered enemies by Google.
It’s also why standard SEO is dead. It’s time to stop trying to build back-links laced with keywords and start doing SEO the way smart people are doing it these days.
That’s not to say that keywords and back-links don’t matter, they absolutely do.
But keywords have to be natural, you just can’t game the system anymore.
Back-links also matter, but the link pattern shouldn’t be an unnatural one that Google will see from miles away. Only natural back-links from quality sites will help you with your SEO.
So, the bottom line is Google has become pretty smart which means that SEO is very different now.
Google’s mission is simple:
To provide end users with exactly what they are looking for.
In the past, they did this through keywords within the content, but now it’s all about engagement and user satisfaction.
They have new ways of determining signs of quality for content through various user engagement and satisfaction signals that show them how the user is actually interacting with the content (not just how many keywords you managed to stuff in it…)
Examples of Why User Engagement Matters:
- Facebook’s machine learning algorithm is constantly surfacing the stuff you engage with most into your news feed. It uses over 100,000 factors to determine what goes into your news feed.
- It’s the exact same thing in email marketing. If your subscribers don’t engage with your emails, your deliverability rates will drop and you’ll wind up in the spam folder. The goal is to get your subscribers to open the emails you send. They need to click, scroll, and reply to them. These are all the same things that you do with emails from people that you like and trust.
- Same goes for your blog posts. Engagement are the key to getting the traffic that you’re hoping for.
Google looks at many different signals to determine user happiness with the results they get from their search and then reacts to these in real time.
If it seems that one result is satisfying users much more than another, then that result will quickly outrank the other in the search results. Google uses machine learning to adapt on the fly.
But, how can Google tell when users are happy with search results? (I hear you asking)
Well, there are various user behaviors that indicate satisfaction, and this is what Google looks at.
Things such as:
- Click-through rate from Google results to that page
- Length of time user spends on that page
- Bounce rate – If the user is pogo-sticking through search results (visiting #1 then quickly backing out, visiting #2 then quickly bouncing out again, and so on).
There are a lot of other factors that they consider, but all this adds up to a huge shift in SEO.
This isn’t new, by any means, however, if you’re still stuck in the world of back-links and long tail keywords then you’re going to miss the boat because SEO today isn’t about links and keywords and other mechanical stuff.
It’s about optimizing for actual humans.
SEO is now UXO (User Experience Optimization)
The new SEO of today is all about User Experience Optimization. The best thing you can do for your blog is to optimize the user experience.
Cater to real humans and not bots and you will start to see an improvement in your organic traffic flow.
These are the questions to ask yourself:
- Are your visitors clicking on your content?
- Are they scrolling and reading it?
- Are they engaging with it?
- Do they find your content useful?
If you’re spewing articles from content spinners, you’re not going to get much engagement. If you’re producing low-quality content, everyone is just going to hit the ‘back’ button.
If your articles are unreadable and stuffed with keywords, or if they clearly don’t help them then your bounce rate is only going to go up because the users will be there just long enough to determine that the article sucks before they leave.
When you consider such things, even the best keyword optimization on earth simply won’t matter.
So, Is Keyword Research Still Important?
Yes! Keywords will always be the fundamental way that Google determines what content is about.
But, you don’t need to get as nitty-gritty about them as everyone used to in the past when the name of the game was all about trying to work long-tail keyword phrases into your content.
These days, you don’t just rank for those keywords by stuffing them wherever you can in as many different ways as possible. The content that you create has to be excellent.
But how does Google determine if you’ve written some truly epic stuff?
Google determines the quality of your content by using these 7 signals of user engagement:
1. Click-Through Rate
2. Scroll Depth
3. Time on Page and Bounce Rate
4. Social Shares of the Post
5. Natural Back-links
7. Site Speed
Now let’s take a more detailed look at each of these user engagement signals:
1. Click-Through Rate
Google uses a tracker to keep tabs on all outgoing traffic and see what people click on most.
So if you have a great title and description in the SERPs (search engine results page) that makes people want to click on it, you will get higher CTR (click-through rate) from the search results.
Optimize your listing for the click-through in the same way you would for an email subject line.
Your blog post headline should be optimized not only on the blog post itself but also in how it appears in Google. Put emotion in your headlines to make them more interesting. Use promise words and numbers in your titles.
These get more attention since the results are more realistic.
Optimize your description to work as a sub-headline that convinces people to click on your article from the results. It’s a good idea to include a few proven keywords into your description. Yoast SEO Plugin is a great tool to use for this.
2. Scroll Depth
Scroll depth simply refers to how far down your page people scroll. People only scroll down pages that they are interested in.
Increase the chances of people scrolling down your pages further by using some of the following content tactics:
- Create long-form posts that are packed full of value
- Use infographics to entice people to scroll to see the whole image
- Use images that cut off at the fold so that they have to scroll down to see the entire thing
- Use teasers at the top of your post and hint at what’s below so people will go down to see
These are just a few examples, but you get the idea…
3. Increase Time On Page & Reduce Bounce Rate
As previously stated, the more engaged people are, the longer they’re going to stay on your page.
And it’s a sign of quality content if they move to other pages on your site instead of just immediately bouncing off.
Here are some tactics that you can use to reduce bounce rate:
- Make sure that your content is highly relevant otherwise people will just hit the back button to find exactly what they are looking for on the other search results.
- Include videos in your posts. When people watch the video, it’s increasing the time spent on your page.
- Use the same tactics that are listed for increasing scroll depth, they work for this as well.
From the huge resource posts to infographics.Include videos in your posts. When people watch the video, it’s increasing the time spent on your page.
4. Social Shares of Your Post
Usually, when a post has lots of social shares, it’s a sign of great content. You wouldn’t share something that you feel sucks, would you?
So one of the things you have to do for modern blog SEO is to get more social media shares.
In addition to creating awesome, share-worthy content, there are some more specific ways of ensuring that your readers share your content:
- Use ‘tweetables’ within your posts. A tweetable is just a highlighted quote which is suitable for a tweet. There’s a button next to it inviting a retweet of the quote, and the tweet has a link back to your post. Simple tools like ClicktoTweet allow you to automatically create these within your posts.
- Create an infographic to go with the post. This is great for sharing on Pinterest.
- Use a tool like Thrive Comments for your blog so you can present all commenters with a call to action asking them to share the post.
- Use content upgrades where your readers have to share the post in order to unlock access.
- Run paid ads to amplify your posts on social media.
5. Get More Natural Back-links
Do not, under any circumstances, engage in link exchanges, paid links, or anything else that will give you unnatural back-links. Just do everything else mentioned in this article and the back-links will take care of themselves.
People will always want to link to you as long as you do your job well. That’s just a fact.
6. Ensure Readability
Proper spelling and grammar matter. Readability is one of the signs of quality that Google uses because they know that people will not engage with content that is not very readable.
But that’s not to say that you have to become a grammar nut!
Talk to your audience in a normal way, but use simple tools such as Grammarly and Copyscape to ensure that your article is readable, has no spelling or grammar mistakes, and is plagiarism-free (oh yeah, Google hates copycats!)
Yoast SEO plugin also has a great tool for helping you with the readability of your posts.
7. Increase Your Site Speed
Your blog speed and the server it’s on both have a huge impact on SEO because the speed of your blog is part of the user experience that Google is so set on improving. Slow server responses increase your bounce rate and also reduce the time users spend on your page.
You’ll almost always find that there is room for improvement.
This isn’t the end. In the next post, we’re going to be discussing some of the things that you can start to do today to increase the speed of your site, as well as the details of how to optimize your site for search.
So Stay Tuned!
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Updated: Originally published June 27th 2018