Blogs and Links: The Art of Helping Readers and Improving SEO

Great writing is essential to successful blogging. Using links when we blog helps us better serve our readers and aids in search engine optimization (SEO), which lets more readers find our work.

This blogging tip has three considerations:

Link to past relevant posts: Within a post, link key words or key phrases back to other relevant posts or tags, (as I did with “blogging tip”). This makes it easy for readers to read more about the subject, discover background, or explore related posts.

A variation of this is to include “related posts” at the end of each post. As a bonus, once setup, this happens automatically, so it requires no extra work or thought. The results are usually quite good, provided we have a sufficient number of posts in our blog.

Link past posts to the current one: This SEO strategy increases the SEO standing of a new post because existing pages link to it. As a bonus, when someone discovers those older posts, they will see a link to the new one.

Include a link when commenting: Another SEO strategy is to go to other blogs of interest or that our audience might read. Make relevant comments on those posts.

For most blogs, the commenters’ name automatically links to their site (assuming they provided that information when they posted their comment). This link should be to our home page or main blog page.

Sometimes it’s acceptable to include a link to a specific post when we comment. We must do this with extreme care. Make sure the link is relevant and adds to the discussion. Shameless self-promotion will result in disaster.

When commenting, don’t leave a generic comment (such as “great post” or “I agree”) and never ever leave a nonsensical one. The comment should advance the discussion or share relevant information. There should be no doubt we read the post and considered our response. (I hope you will take a moment and comment on this post!)

I do a good job at the first and last suggestions, but usually forget the middle one.

How do you use links when blogging? What other ideas do you have?

Don’t Forget Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on Your Blog

Another blogging tip is to optimize posts for search engines. As we already covered, the post should be at least 200 words long for search engines to have enough content to analyze. Also, making a post scannable helps, too, especially when we use bold or add a headline tag to subheadings (an easy step I often forget); use H2.

The post title needs to be search-engine friendly, as well as interesting to readers. For example, using “Optimize Before Posting” as a title for this post may intrigue readers, but it wouldn’t help search engines. Conversely, one that search engines would love but not so much readers, might be: “WordPress Blogging Success: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Improves Discoverability”

Many people tell bloggers to research keywords and key phrases to scatter throughout a post. I don’t. I write the best post I can for people and hope search engines like it, too. Though I do try to include words and phrases I might use if I were doing a search on the topic.

Publicizing our posts (which we’ll discuss in two weeks) also helps SEO. Legitimate links from other sites to our posts improves SEO ranking. Also, link to other posts and from other posts.

We need a sitemap. All you really need to know about sitemaps is that search engines expect them and that a plugin can automatically make them. I use Google XML Sitemaps but there are others, too.

Lastly, we need an SEO plugin. There are several options, but I use All in One SEO Pack. This allows me to add three behind-the-scenes SEO elements:

  • Title tag, which can be different than the post title. Write a title tag that is descriptive to readers and keyword-rich for search engines. Use up to 60 characters.
  • Meta description is displayed in search engine results and some social media platforms. It should interest readers and abound with keywords and phrases. It can be up to 160 characters, and I try to use them all.
  • Meta keywords are reportedly not used by major search engines anymore. However, I still enter a few just to be safe, but I only spend a few seconds doing so.

Publishing a post without considering SEO is like writing a book and not telling anyone. We crave readers, and these SEO tips will help us find more.

What other SEO tips do you have? What SEO changes do you need to make?

How Long Should Your Blog Posts Be?

Another key to successful blogging is to write like Goldilocks: not too long, and not too short, but just right. But how long is that?

Although writers often grumble at my answer, I’ve never heard one complaint from a reader. Readers are who we need to please: posts should be 200 to 300 words long. That’s right, just a couple hundred words. Shorter is okay, but aim for at least 100. Longer is risky, but definitely keep it under 500. I get nervous if my posts pass 300 and edit ruthlessly when they approach 400. Having penned 1,500 posts, I’ve only exceeded 500 words once – because I was asked.

Here’s why we need 200 to 300 word posts:

Attention Span: Readers have short attention spans. They’re likely to become distracted half way through a lengthy post – and bail. Or they might never even start.

Time: When a reader has ten things to do and only enough time for five, they make choices. A shorter post has a better chance of being read.

Quality: It’s easy to write a long post; it’s harder to write a short one. Long posts often ramble; short posts make every word count. Rabbit trails get deleted; extraneous phrases have no place in the land where brevity is king.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Search engines need a couple hundred words to form an opinion. Anything under 200 and there’s not enough to evaluate. Yes, some successful bloggers write short posts, but they don’t rely on SEO.

Consider This: USA Today found success with shorter articles because that’s what people wanted. By the way, this post is 294 words.

How long are your posts? Does the thought of writing less make you cringe?

Four Elements of a Successful Blog Post: Use Each Component to Maximize Results

Last week, I shared eight reasons why every writer should blog and also linked to my new series on setting up and using WordPress. Today, I want to look at the four key components of a successful post.

Title: What might make for a great article title may not be a great blog title. Blog titles need to appeal to both readers and search engines. When blogging, avoid short titles and don’t use a play on words, a clever twist, or provocative thought. The title must make it clear what the post is about, include words a search engine will like, and make the best use of the space. Here are some formulas for what works well:

  • Answer a question, as in “How to…”
  • Ask a question, as in “Why people…”
  • Give a numbered list, which I’ve done in this post.
  • Use a title and subtitle format, which I’ve also done in this post.

Content: What we write in the body of our post is critical. As they say, “content is king.” We’ll talk more about this in future posts, but briefly, our posts must be well written, carefully proofed, concise, and scannable.

Category: Each post needs a category, which is like a folder of similar posts. Always pick one category for each post; don’t use the default of “uncategorized.” We want a handful of carefully considered categories, appropriate to our blog’s theme. I recommend at least three but no more than eight. Using categories focuses our thoughts, organizes our work, and helps readers find related posts. Plus, I understand categories help search engines.

Tag: I once thought a tag was synonymous with keywords, but they are different. A tag is a word or short phrase that connects one post with similar posts. One SEO expert said use no more than six tags, but another said one is ideal. I recommend one or possibly two tags per post. I also pick tags I’ll likely use again. Tags help readers discover other content on our blogs and can aid search engines.

Most bloggers focus on content, but give little thought to title, may sometimes use a category, and usually skip tags. Yes, these extra considerations may distract from writing great content, but with practice they will come quickly and take little extra time.

Which of these four elements do you struggle with? What advice would you add?

Seven Tips to Successful Blogging

If blogging is a form of self-publishing, then is writing a blog post the same as other writing? No! Here are seven blogging tips to be a successful blogger:

1) Make your title search engine friendly: Forget clever titles; aim for SEO — and to get readers’ attention. If search engines don’t like you, no one will find you.

2) Make one point per post: The point of this post is how to blog successfully; the sub-points reinforce that; anything else is a distraction.

3) Keep it short: Our online attention span is fleeting, so keep posts under 300 words, 200 is even better.

4) Use lists: Numbered lists or bullet points make your post easy to read.

5) Make it scannable: People tend to scan while reading online. The careful use of bold text aids in scanning. Sometimes italics helps, but avoid underlining because it looks like a link.

6) Link to your blog: When you make relevant comments on other blogs, link back to yours. But never spam them or leave generic feedback; it will end up biting you.

7) Ask for comments: Blogs are about engagement. Ask a question to start the conversation.

What advice would you add? (Remember to link to your blog.)