Your blog is a traffic generating machine.
But in order to get that traffic, you’re going to have to make each blog post work. Here are 11 steps to by optimizing your blog post. We’re going to look at each in detail:
- Nail down your topic
- Do keyword research
- Build your outline
- Write your first draft
- Edit your post
- Write your meta
- Create visual assets
- Add internal links
- Get Google to index your page
- Promote your new page
- Continue to optimize your post
Let’s get started.
Nail down your topic
One of the biggest mistakes you see in a lot of blogs is a vague topic. The post is meandering.
This is the first step to a great blog post is to clarify what you’re talking about. You should be able to say this is my topic and this is what I want people to get out of it.
Okay so you might think that finding a topic’s no problemo. But here’s the thing: there’s an equivalent to writer’s block for creating content. One of your biggest assets to overcoming that is going to be creating a content calendar. I’ll get into that one day in the future. In the meantime, here are different ways you can come up with a topic for your next blog post.
- What am I good at?
- What are questions I frequently get?
- What are common mistakes I see?
- What are keyphrase I already rank for?
- What keyphrase opportunities are worth pursuing?
- What do I want to write about?
Pick your topic and get hyper-specific about it.
Do keyword research
What are people searching for that’s related to your topic? Remember, we want to write blog posts that are going to bring traffic to your site. If you’re not covering a topic in a way that provides answers to searches, then you can kiss that traffic good bye.
Even on topics that you’re pretty confident about how to cover them: doing keyword research and finding the ways people search will give you insights and ideas for sections maybe you hadn’t thought of. This will give you the chance to cover your topic comprehensively.
When you’re starting out, doing keyword research can be as simple as popping your topic into the Google search bar and seeing what shows up. Is the content Google’s serving relevant to what you want to write about? Are there suggested searches that show up as you’re typing in the search bar, People Also Ask sections or related searches at the bottom?
Make as big of a list of these relevant searches as possible.
Check out my post on the subject for a step-by-step tutorial on keyword optimization (including some free tools to do it).
Build your outline
Use your keyword research to build your outline.
You’ve got a big list of searches that people have made. Not everything’s necessarily going to make the cut but now’s the time to start organizing these keywords you’ve collected. Some will end up being a large sections, others will be points within those sections.
What you’re doing in your outline is you’re building out your content hierarchy through subheads. This is an ideal type of structure:
<H1>Page title: Common Household Pets
- <H2>Subtopic #1: Dogs
- <H3>Point #1: Big dogs
- <H3>Point #2: Medium dogs
- <H3>Point #3: Small dogs
- <H2>Subtopic #2: Cats
- <H3>Point #1: Hairy cats
- <H3>Point #2: Mean cats
- <H3>Point #3: Devil cats
- <H2>Subtopic #3: Rodents
- <H3>Point #1: Mice
- <H3>Point #2: Gerbels
- <H3>Point #3: Hamsters
Subtopics are indicated with a Heading 2 tag and the content within further breaks down that subtopic.
While you’re building your outline, it’s a good time to work on your headline too: write variants of it. Every word you write is important and your headline is extra important. You’re going to want to make sure it includes a couple keywords in it (your main topic, along with a secondary keyword).
As you’re really considering the questions people have around your topic, draft some social media posts. Use your rejected headlines: nothing goes to waste.
Write your first draft
Once your outline is built, it’s time to write your first draft. The best way to do that is to get drunk one night, stay up super late so you’re exhausted and just let loose on a keyboard.
I’m joking. Mostly. He says, at 12:16 AM on a Sunday night while sipping tequila.
Editing yourself at this stage is creative death. Don’t do it. Just write. You can fix it later.
Just make sure here that you’re comprehensive. This is the second big mistake I see: a lot of people who write about stuff they do for a living just end up laying out the problem and then, when it comes time to provide a solution to that problem they so adeptly laid out, here’s the wisdom they have to share with the world:
Do I need to focus on paying off my student loans or saving for a mortgage? It depends.
I know it depends, that’s what I’m asking you: please unpack for me the principles at work upon which it depends so I can make an informed decision.
It’s so much more frustrating to have too little information than too much.
Edit, edit, edit
You’ve got your first draft down, great! Set it aside for a couple days. Step away from your computer. Let it breathe. A blog post is like a good cheese. It needs air. Don’t suffocate it by going for the edit the instant you finished your draft.
When you’re editing, start with the flow of the arguments. Does it still make sense or did the tequila get in the way? If the flow’s laid out right, are you communicating it well? In other words, A, B and C might be in the right order, but are you moving your reader through it well? This is a good time to make sure that you’re covering the topic (and subtopics) comprehensively too.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to simplify it. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph, ask: does this belong? If you were to take it out, would the post still work? I still make room for casual writing (clearly) but especially where you’re communicating information you want your reader to retain, pair it down to its simplest form.
Once you’ve done that pass, check your headlines. Are they interesting? Are they compelling? Do they set up and cover the content? Do they include a keyword from your keyword research? Tighten those subheads!
And of course, check your spelling and grammar. Read your post out loud to make sure it sounds like a human wrote it.
Create visual assets
Good blog posts are visual. The way we consume information online is not that linear, left to right, top to bottom way that print accustomed us to.
We absorb content. Visually. Out of context. In morsels.
I mean if you want, you can use your blog as the keep where we’ll make the final stand for the attention span of the human race. Or you can write thoughtful, helpful content that people enjoy reading that’ll keep them coming back. And before you know it, within a month, you’ve written the equivalent of three Tolstoy novels.
What kind of visual assets should you create?
I always say that if somebody were to scroll through your post just reading your headlines and looking at the visuals, they’d get a good sense for the arguments you’re making. That’s not always possible and creating (or gathering) that many images takes a lot of time. So do what you can. But the closest to that you can get, the better off you’ll be.
In other words don’t just put a stock photo in the middle of your post and call it quits, you know?
Write your meta
The page title, meta description and URL are often the most overlooked elements on blog posts. But—next to creating the most comprehensive content on the topic—they’re some of the strongest signals you can send.
These are the three elements that show up on Google searches so if you’re looking at writing a blog post that’s going to get you some traffic from Google, you can’t ignore them.
This is a 50-60 character version of your page title that’s sitting at the top of your page. You want it to be compelling and to include your keyword. A good title is not obscure. I once read a post that said “You’re not Nabokov” and I like that. This is not the place to be evocative. You want to be clear about what your post is about.
Often, the URL defaults to whatever title you initially set so you get monstrosities. There’s no character limit to your URL but essentially you want to make it as readable as possible. It shouldn’t be a sentence. It shouldn’t be a string of unintelligible characters.
It should be your topic (sometimes known as your focus or primary keyword) and that’s pretty much it. That doesn’t mean it’s just one word. Take a look at the URL for this post for an example.
Your meta description is that little paragraph of text that shows up below your post title and URL in the search engine results. The ideal character length is between 130 and 160 characters and you know, there’s a lot of controversy about the usefulness of setting your meta description. Google will never show an empty description, so if you haven’t set one, it’ll just pull whatever it thinks is relevant from your post (and sometimes that can be a real hoot).
Even when you set a meta description, sometimes Google will override, depending on the search, and decide something else in your post is more relevant there. But I’m a fan of manually setting your own descriptions. Because the point of SEO is not appease Google but to provide clarity to a searcher. Plus you have to learn to promote your content so write your damn descriptions.
I’ve put together a checklist to optimizing your blog posts. It’s a great step-by-step resource that shows you how to adapt your topic to those different sections and where to focus your attention.
Free resource: download my simple on-page SEO optimization checklist
Add internal links
Internal links are links to other pages on your website. They’re important for a couple reasons.
First, when they’re relevant, they compel a visitor to spend more time on your site. If you’re being helpful, that means they’re more likely to take a significant action with you, whether that’s subscribing to your email or buying a product.
Second, links help your content rank better. That’s definitely true of external links (other websites linking to you, also known as backlinks) but it’s also true of internal links.
To begin with, if your blog post topic is related to any product or service you offer, link your blog post to that page. If you have other blog posts that you can link, add those in. You’ll often find those opportunities in your subheads.
Note: One of those crucial links is going to be finding a relevant opportunity to plug your email list.
Once your post looks like a set of Apple earphones that you pull out of your pocket, it’s time to hit publish.
Get Google to index your page
Your post is published, congratulations! How does it show up on Google now?
Basically search engines have bots that crawl the web, following links, looking for new content. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to internally link your pages. But then you’re at the mercy of whenever the little shelob decides to visit your site. Which could be whole weeks! *fake outrage*
There has to be another way. There is.
It’s called Google Search Console. It’s an incredible tool and I walk you through how to set it up and use it that in this guide.
But once you’ve got it set up, whenever you publish or update a page, head over there, put your new URL in the top search bar and request indexing.
That’s a little trick that will get your new page found a lot faster.
Promote your new page
Okay, so you’ve done everything you can to give your post the best chance to get found. Now you got to pound the pavement and hustle to get it in front of your audience. People often imagine their post will just get found on its own. Unfortunately that’s just not the case. The more you work to get it in front of people, the better chance you’re giving it to build an audience in the long-term.
This is one of the reasons you want to build your audiences across different channels so you have an audience that’s primed for your content every time you have something new to share.
Here’s the thing about social media: there’s a niche for everything so it doesn’t matter what you write about, you can find an audience.
Obviously there are your channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram Stories, LinkedIn. But some of the most effective places you have to plug your content is relevant groups and forums.
Here are a couple other ways you can leverage your social media channels:
- Repurpose your blog post. Create a video that you post on social. You can even link to the original post in the comments.
- Get your followers involved in the content creation. This is where a content calendar comes in handy. If you know that you’ll be writing a post on a certain topic, pick your community’s brains on it first. Ask questions. How do they do it? What are their biggest challenges? You don’t even have to hide that you’re creating your next post. They’ll often be excited to share their thoughts on a subject you’re about to write on.
Your email list is seriously one of the most potent tools in your arsenal. Communicate with them regularly and frequently. They’ll let you know if you’re sending them too much by giving you a spike in unsubscribes. But you want to cultivate a list that’s interested in what you have to say.
So share your new content with them. Share your old content with them. Give them a peak behind-the-scenes of how your content came together.
Okay so just like you linked other blog posts on your new one, make sure you link your new post on existing ones. Here’s a quick way to find existing posts that deal with the topic:
Go to Google. In the search bar, enter site:yoursitename.com “topic” (obviously, replace yoursitename.com with your domain name and “topic” with the actual topic; also leave the quotation marks).
So for me in this case, I would enter site:thomasgage.com “blog posts” .
Google will then show me all the pages on my site where I’ve mentioned “blog posts.” I can then go straight to those pages and if the context is relevant, link my new post to that page.
Here’s the final way to promote your post. This is really if you start going extra and having your traffic explode. It’s a bit more advanced and requires additional work, like cultivating relationships with other content creators. And that’s getting other sites to link to your post.
When that starts to happen, you’re going to see a difference in the traffic coming to your site. You’re not going to have to hustle quite as much for every visit.
There are two ways you can do that now: first you can identify other bloggers at your level, your peers, who are writing to similar audiences. It might be on similar topics or topics that are adjacent to yours. Build a relationship with them over social, share their content, link to their posts. Be real, be genuine. Don’t be a sleaze ball. Usually, out of that relationship, links will naturally occur. If they don’t, if there’s a post on their site where a link to your blog post would fit really well, just ask them.
The second way is to pitch your new blog post to media publications. If your post is newsworthy, great! If you’ve identified publications that are in your industry, great! You don’t have to do a whole lot more than pitch your content. Otherwise, what you can do is create a press release that focuses on a newsworthy side of your business and that includes a link to your post.
So for me for example, I’d write a press release on the fact that I’m providing free digital resources to theatre artists. Like this one. That’d be my pitch. And I’d try different ones.
Continue to optimize your post
Once you’ve done all this, you’ve given your post every chance to rank and bring in traffic from Google to your site. That might seem like a lot of work. And it is; I never want to pretend that content marketing is easy. If somebody tells you there’s a shortcut, they’re selling you something. Don’t buy it.
It’s hustle. It’s work. But the hustle and the work, you can make it pay off. You don’t have to flounder. Spend a lot of time creating content that goes nowhere.
If you keep on it, I promise you this: your traffic will grow. Slow and steady will win the race. Don’t expect immediate spikes in your traffic. Don’t expect virality. Those suck.
Create content regularly, promote it relentlessly, then go in a few weeks or months later, check your analytics and use that data to improve it. Constantly fine tuning it. You do that and you will see that growth. And after a couple years, those posts will start bringing in traffic by themselves.