A 7-step checklist to writing for SEO
By Carol Ann Tan - January 18, 2019
In today’s digital world of content marketing, consumers have never been more oversaturated with information. That’s why it’s important to capitalize on the tools that will help you stand out from the crowd. One such tool involves structuring your blog posts in a way that will maximize its SEO value.
Granted, keeping up-to-date with Google’s constantly shifting algorithm can be really tricky. So, to complement our stylistic guide to writing for SEO, we’ve also compiled a handy 7-step checklist for you to follow the next time you’re putting a blog post together.
1. Focus on strategically chosen long-tail keywords
If you were a small start-up selling coffee beans in Chicago, trying to rank for “coffee” or “coffee beans” would be like trying to discover the secret to immortality—it’s probably not going to happen in your lifetime. It’s hard to stand out in generic keyword searches because you’ll also be competing against larger, more established corporations.
Conversely, it’s easier to stand out when your keywords are more specific, because you will have narrowed the market in which you’re trying to assert yourself. To continue the example above, trying to rank for “sustainably sourced coffee chicago” might be a little more realistic.
Long-tail keywords can also help drive more efficient lead conversions, because the types of customers who will make such specific searches are often more qualified leads to begin with. After all, the person who searches for simply “coffee” is less likely to care about the source of their coffee.
Once you have chosen your long-tail keywords, you want to strategically insert them into the following locations:
- Article title/headline
- Article body
- Meta description
Note though: You’ll want to include your keywords in a natural manner, especially in the body of your article. It should go without saying that your readers will not enjoy reading a repetitive style—just imagine if I had inserted “writing for SEO” into every other sentence! Besides, search engines will penalize pages if they suspect that a keyword is being overused in order to rank for that keyword.
To that end, we also recommend choosing a small number of long-tail keywords to focus on per blog post or page—perhaps just 1 or 2 such keywords—as search engines may also penalize you for keyword-stuffing. At any rate, by focusing your energy on excelling in just 1 or 2 niches, you’ll be more likely to see dividends in the long run.
2. Create a clear structure for your post
As we mentioned in our guide to writing for SEO, you want to write for your reader first, and for search engines second. Consequently, your reader’s ability and desire to actually read your post should be your number one priority.
If you begin writing with a clear overall structure for your post in mind, all while creating strong logical links between points in your post—well, let’s just say that your readers will thank you for it!
It may help you to write out a plan for your post first. When it comes to the Sprk’d process, we’ll usually sketch out a skeleton for the post using the following template:
- Introductory statement, a.k.a. thesis. What do I hope to establish through this post? What is my goal in writing this post?
- Point #1 supporting my thesis
- Evidence #1 supporting Point #1
- Evidence #2 supporting Point #1
- Point #2 supporting my thesis
- Evidence #1 supporting Point #2
- Evidence #2 supporting Point #2
- Point #3 supporting my thesis
- Evidence #1 supporting Point #3
- Evidence #2 supporting Point #3
- Concluding statement.
Depending on the article I’m writing, I can have as many or as few points supporting my thesis as needed, although I have found that I usually need at least 3 points before I can adequately justify my thesis statement.
3. Use headings to delineate structure
It’s one thing to logically structure a post, but another thing to make this structure visually apparent to readers. As such, headings can help orient your readers by emphasizing your most important points, as well as demonstrating how your argument flows from point to point.
Crucially, not only do headings serve your readers, but they also help Google to parse the main topics within your blog post—especially if your post is long.
Note though that for your headings to be SEO-optimized, you must code them using the appropriate HTML. Do not manually bold and/or increase the font size; that may visually suffice for casual readers, but search engines will only interpret your headers correctly with the right HTML markup!
- H1 headings are your main headings.
- There is usually only one H1 heading in each page. In the case of your blog post, it is likely to be the article’s headline.
- H2 headings are sub-headings, H3 headings are sub-sub-headings, etc.
- Although debatably effective, if you can work it in naturally, you may wish to ensure your headings contain important keywords that you want to rank for. For example, in this article, emphasizing “writing for SEO” has value, but emphasizing “my thesis statement” does not.
4. Optimize the alt-text of your images
Sure, we’ve all heard that blog posts with more images tend to be easier to read, and consequently gain more readers, than blog posts without. But search engines don’t just look for blog posts with images; they are also programmed to read the alt-text of your images.
Alt-text is basically the text that appears when you hover your cursor over a particular image. Without this alt-text, search engines have no way of discerning what your image is about.
Where’s Waldo the alt text?
The strongest alt-texts to images are concise and descriptive. For example, why write “coffee” when you could write “woman drinking latte”?
Keep in mind though that you do not want to resort to keyword-stuffing either! Indeed, search engines will penalize you if you use “woman girl person drinking coffee latte macchiato americano espresso affogato red eye café au lait flat white mocha.”
5. Link to previous content where possible
Backlinks (or inbound links) to your content can help boost your SEO rankings—especially if they come from authoritative and established sources—because they can demonstrate to search engines that your content is valid and relevant. Although you can’t always control external links to your pages, you can help build your own credibility and boost your visibility in search engines by linking your readers to your own articles covering similar topics.
When creating backlinks, remember that the anchor text matters! The anchor text is basically the text you’re using to link to the source. For example, in the previous paragraph, my anchor text were the words “boost your SEO rankings.” As far as possible, you want to use anchor text related to your targeted keywords.
6. Use permalinks that are easy to navigate
Permalinks are the means through which visitors can navigate your website and its internal pages. More importantly, search engines favor permalinks that make it easy for your visitors to understand how your website is structured, and consequently what kind of content they are about to see.
For example, let’s take a look at the Sprk’d URL:
- The root URL is https://www.sprk-d.com/
- The extension URL is what you add to the end of the root URL in order to navigate to a new section. To go to the blog, you’d use the extension “blog/”. To find out how to contact us, you’d use the extension “contact-us/”. You get the idea.
- So, if we wanted to access a new blog post, we would only have to change the parts of the URL after the “blog/” extension. Put another way, we know we are reading a blog post if we see “blog/” after the root URL.
Don’t forget too that the final section of the URL is usually related to your blog post title. This is where you want to strategically insert a shortened version of your long-tail keyword into the URL. Here’s a fun exercise to get you started: take a look at this article and guess what keyword we were targeting!
7. Ensure your website theme is SEO-optimized
Optimizing your overall website theme matters because it will help readers and search engines alike to find the content they’re looking for, and also indicates that you may be a reliable site.
Think of it this way: would you trust a salesperson who was dressed in tattered clothes and looked like they hadn’t showered in weeks? Yeah, we didn’t think so. Well, your website doubles up as your digital salesperson, and your SEO optimization is the first impression you’ll leave on visitors.
There are a lot of things you can do for your website in this regard, and a professional website analysis can be your first step towards cleaning up well. But one crucial aspect is to make sure your website is mobile-optimized.
To this end, you’ll want your blog theme to be responsive, i.e., to conform to whatever screen size your visitor is using. Your visitors will be more likely to stick around if they can easily find what they need. Also, with responsive design, you’ll use one URL regardless of whether your visitor is on mobile. This will centralize your backlinks, thereby boosting your URL’s SEO ranking.
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