Another common question I get asked about search engine optimisation is:
“What are the “must-dos” if I only have limited resources/time to focus on SEO?”
So in this post, I thought I’d share some tips on how I perform SEO on my own website including the tools and settings I use. Hopefully this will allow you to repeat the process on your own blog, and you’ll see that it doesn’t take much more than 10 minutes per article.
1. Select a focus keyword
For every new page or blog post I create, I start by deciding what keyword or search query I would like that content to rank for. In other words, what would someone have to search for on Google that this would be a great result.
Remember a keyword doesn’t have to be only one word, it can contain multiple words.
Sometimes, I start with an idea for a post and narrow that idea down to a specific keyword. Other times, I have a keyword in mind and have to think about how to create an article about it. Either way works fine. The important thing is to be clear what the focus keyword is for that article.
The golden rule for SEO is that each URL should have a unique focus keyword.
You don’t want multiple pages on your site competing for the same keyword. After all, they can’t both be optimised without being exactly the same, which is pointless. You’d do better to optimise each post for a related keyword as this will make your site relevant for more search terms. So it’s okay to use similar keywords but don’t duplicate.
How do you choose the focus keyword, I hear you ask? Start by generating a list of potential keywords. Then use keyword research tools to decide between them. In my previous post we looked at how keyword research can improve your SEO. I recommended that you analyse similar keywords for two factors:
- Volume – how frequently are they searched for?
- Competition – how difficult would it be to outrank the current top 10 results?
Ultimately you need to choose the keyword with an optimal mix of both. There is no point ranking well for a keyword nobody ever searches for. Equally, there is no point investing your time in creating content for a keyword that is extremely competitive. As freelancers, we simply don’t have the resources to compete with the giant corporations of the world who can throw money at content marketing and SEO.
A much better approach is to rank well for longer-tail keywords that have medium search volume.
A great way to find long tail keywords is to look at the questions your clients ask you. If they’re asking you, then you can bet there are other people actively searching for the same answers. It’s also true that these questions tend to use more words in the search query, which makes them easier to rank for.
What does this look like in practice?
Enough of the theory for now. Let’s look at an actual example. I wrote this post about a problem a client was having with a WordPress plugin.
The keyword I decided to target was “contact form 7 redirect” as it summed up the problem people would be searching for.
Here is the end result of the keyword research:
In this example the “redirect” version of the keyword had slightly higher search volume in both the US and UK than the “thank you page” version of the keyword, so that’s what I went with.
Once you’ve decided which keyword to focus on, you’ll need to write your article. When this is done your next step is to ensure the focus keyword is used in all of the correct places. This is commonly referred to as on page optimisation.
2. On Page Optimisation
Before we get into the important places to use your focus keyword, I need to stress an important point about quality. One thing to remember at all times is that the content you produce has to be high quality. If you start forcing keywords into titles and sentences for SEO purposes, you’re doing it wrong. It won’t read naturally and will stick out like a sore thumb. Your readers will go elsewhere and Google will either drop your site in the rankings, or possibly even apply a web spam penalty.
With that in mind, my second SEO must-do is to spend 5 minutes checking my focus keyword has been used in the following elements of my post:
The first, and most important place you need to include your focus keyword is in the page title. This is the first of only three elements that actually show up in a search result that you can control. So you need to make sure your title is relevant to the search query, but you also want to make it compelling to click on.
If Google detects that people are clicking your result and then clicking back to the search results too frequently, they take this as an indication that your result does not meet the needs of the searcher, and will likely move you down the rankings. It’s critical therefore to ensure your title is not misleading. It should accurately describe what the page is about so the user can determine if it’s the right result for them.
I use the KingSumo Headlines plugin to split test my page titles. It’s not necessary for SEO, but it helps improve my click through rate. There is no point ranking on page one if people click on the other results, right?
You’ll see that the plugin allows me to create more than one page title for a post. It then automatically creates a unique URL for each version and tracks which ones get clicked the most. In the above example you can see that the second option outperformed the original by 189.4% and the third option outperformed it by 306.7%!!! So choosing the right page title can make a huge difference to your SEO efforts.
If you don’t want to invest in the Headlines plugin, I recommend you check out CoSchedule’s nifty Headline Analyzer. Simply enter your page title and click the analyze now button. The free tool will score your overall headline quality and rate its ability to result in social shares and increased traffic. Try out different versions of your title and use the best one.
A meta description is the small snippet of text that appears underneath the page title in the search results. While it isn’t actually used by the search engines as a ranking factor, it is the second element you have control over to make your result compelling.
Again your meta description should accurately describe the page so users know what to expect if they click the link.
The other reason to use keywords in your meta description is that Google will emphasise in bold, any words that match the user’s search query. This can help draw attention to your result and increase click through rates.
The actual address of the page is the third and final element that will show in a search result. It’s less important than the title or meta description, but it’s still an area to optimise. We’ve all seen horrible long URLs with loads of parameters tagged on the end. They’re not friendly for humans as they’re difficult to remember and type in. A short URL, with real words separated by hyphens, is much easier to remember and use. Try to include your focus keyword in the URL whenever possible.
A note about Search Results
As I’ve explained above, the title, meta description and URL are the only 3 elements that show up in a search result. Therefore you need to optimise these 3 elements to make your result the most appealing to a searcher. Think of it as a mini advert for your page and entice the user to click your result.
You can test how your page might look in the search results using the Google SERP Snippet Optimisation Tool. Be sure to tick the Google SERP Simulator checkbox in display options.
This is just the main body of your article. Try to include the focus keyword in your text where it makes sense. Don’t write like a robot and include it in every sentence.
Some SEO guides will give you a specific keyword density to aim for, but I don’t bother with these. As long as my focus keyword is mentioned in the article 2-3 times I’m happy.
It also helps to use related keywords and synonyms. Google is getting much better at understanding the intent of a searcher’s query. In some cases they return results where a synonym is used rather than the exact search keyword.
Image Alt Text
The final place to include your focus keyword is in the alt text (alternative text) of any images. Alt text is a HTML attribute that describes the content of an image. It’s useful because search engines can’t understand an image, so including the keyword in the alt text helps demonstrate relevance.
As with all of these elements, avoid stuffing keywords to game the system. The alt text should describe the image, so include your focus keyword where appropriate.
My Favourite On Page Optimisation Tool
In my opinion, the best way to make on page optimisation as easy as possible is to install the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress.
The page analysis feature will help you ensure that your focus keyword is in all the right places.
Don’t get me wrong. You can’t just install this plugin and forget about it. You have to actively use it to optimise your content. Even then, there are other off page factors that play a huge role in SEO, so it doesn’t guarantee page one results. However, it is awesome for the on page stuff.
What does this look like in practice?
Sticking with the earlier example I thought I’d share the Yoast settings I used for the Contact Form 7 post.
This is where you enter your focus keyword. You can see at a glance if it has been used in the correct places. This is also where you can specify your title and meta description. Finally you get a snippet preview so you can see how your page will look in the search results.
This tab gives you guidelines on how to improve your post. Each element is scored on a traffic light system. Ideally you want as many of them to get a green light as possible. However, it’s not essential that they are all green. Pick out the easy ones to fix, make the changes and update your post. If any are red, then I’d recommend fixing those as a minimum.
You shouldn’t really need to do anything on this tab. In this case, I’ve left it set to all of the defaults. However, there are two very useful features on this tab.
The first is the Meta Robots Index dropdown. If you had a page or post that you didn’t want to appear in the search results, then change this to noindex. This tells the search engines not to include the page in their index. You would only really use this for thank you and opt-in download pages. Certainly don’t use it if you want your content to be found!
The second useful feature is the Canonical URL. You would use this if you had copied the article from somewhere else online. It tells the search engine the address of the original so they can rank that version instead of the duplicate.
Finally, the social settings tab is used to control how your content is displayed when shared on social media. You have the option to set a different title and meta description, although I don’t use these. The only feature I do use on this tab is to specify the image to be used when the article gets shared.
In this post, I’ve explained the process I went through to create one of my own blog posts. We first looked at using keyword research to choose a focus keyword. We then looked at how I use the Yoast SEO plugin to ensure the focus keyword is included in the right places.
So what were the results? That post is currently ranked 4th in Google.
That’s 4th out of 117 million results! The only sites above it are the website for the developer who makes the Contact Form 7 plugin, and 2 pages from the WordPress plugin repository (which has the highest possible domain authority).
What does that translate to in traffic?
In the past 90 days, my site has appeared in the search results over 30,000 times! It’s received nearly 1400 clicks! That’s a click through rate of 4.6%. Not bad considering I’ve done absolutely nothing to promote the article during that period.
Going through the data to compile this post, I’ve even realised I could increase my traffic further by changing the SEO title in the Yoast general settings to match the 3rd title option from the Headline split test plugin. That really is what SEO is all about, continually improving your content so it ranks higher and drives more traffic.
I could also really boost my SEO and traffic if I started actively promoting the post, but you’ll have to wait for my next featured writer post to find out more about that! 😉