SEO for Blogs: Tips & Tricks for Higher-Ranking Content

Synergy is defined as the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. In other words, it’s two or more things working together to bring about awesome results. Like Batman and Robin, chocolate and peanut butter, and most definitely like great web design and SEO. Anyone who runs a website or a blog quickly learns the importance of traffic from search engines. While SEO basics are becoming common knowledge for designers and marketers, blogs face different issues with search engines than traditional websites.

With blogs you have less control over the coding that is used. Depending on the blogging platform, you are probably typing directly in an internet browser to add a new post. The program then generates the coding. Most modern blogging programs have been designed to create blogs that are built with search engine-friendly code. However, some control is lost for the blogger.

Two Peas in a Digital Pod

SEO and effective web design go hand in hand. Without one, the other simply can’t perform as well.

Good web design is about creating a site that fully engages the reader and gets them to take action of a certain kind. But if the website does not follow current SEO best practices, its rankings will suffer which will in turn lessen the number of visitors that actually engage with it.

Conversely, if the focus has been on SEO and pleasing the search engine spiders, the site may rank highly and get lots of search engine traffic, but once that traffic lands what will they see? Will they be engaged? Will they take action? Not if the design is poor.

In order to be successful in today’s digital landscape, equal focus must be given to design and search engine optimization.

But Doesn’t SEO Stifle a Web Designer’s Creativity?

A great demand for “optimized design” has been placed on web designers in the last five or so years. Before this, designers had the luxury of focusing mainly on the human experience, not the “bot” experience. Designing a website was about creating big, bold headers and beautiful graphics. It was about developing not just a site and a layout, but a thoughtful experience.

Nowadays, designers are not just asked to make a site look attractive, but to make sure the call to action fits “above the fold” and the site loads quickly. Breadcrumbs must be employed, smart navigational choices made, CSS must be used and JavaScript files need to be kept to a minimum. That’s a tall order, and some designers wonder if all of these new SEO rules are hurting their freedom to simply create.

There is something to be said for clean design, however, and at the end of the day, it is clean design that will help a site load faster, be easily crawled by spiders, and allow for a brand’s message to be seen by the maximum amount of eyes. So in reality, creativity and optimization do need to be able to flourish together side by side.

writing seo for blogs

Putting it All Together

There are some core elements that support every strategic SEO initiative and web design project:

Keyword Analysis

When launching a business website, thorough keyword analysis must be conducted. In order to do this, business leaders must intimately understand their target customers and define how that demographic fits into the larger target market the business is attempting to reach. Then, proper optimization for that audience and those keyword phrases should be done.

Technology

Before a site can be designed, some questions first need to be answered regarding the technology that will support it, namely, which platform will the site be built on (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc.), what scripts and applications will be required, and what programming language will be implemented? When a decision is made, the entire project team must be committed to that decision 100%.

Content Hierarchy is Your Friend

A well optimized website is a website that’s friendly to both humans and spiders. It’s not enough for a business to create good content, they must also strategically plan where that content resides. Effective planning means placing related content into virtual silos through the use of creative and thoughtful design and internal linking.

Think from a User’s Point of View

Typically, a lot of thought and planning goes into the navigation of every site, but the reality is that users won’t always arrive through the front door and follow the trail of rose petals you’ve left for them. The more pages or posts your site has, the more opportunities there are for people to find you, and when they land on any of those pages, you need to make sure you can help them get around easily. This means making it instantly clear where they are and allow them to get from page to page in as few clicks as possible.

Why is Strategic SEO so Important?

Unless your brand is well-known, it is usually the search engines that are responsible for most of the traffic a website receives. Beyond this, it is organic traffic, not paid, that generally receives the most profitable clicks. Strategic SEO has the power to leverage important customer data and tap into new potential income streams.

Having proper site structure and information architecture will ultimately allow businesses to offer an engaging user experience at the same time as decreasing the need for site tinkering with each new growth spurt.

There are a few areas that can often be troublesome for bloggers who are attempting to optimize for search engines. Now we will cover SEO for blogs to craft rank-able content.

1 – URL Structure

Most blogs create URLs that contain a lot of random characters, like question marks, and no keywords or anything of value. A page will rank higher in search engines when its URL contains words or phrases that are part of the search.

Therefore, getting keywords in your URL is important. In addition, many search engines won’t index pages that have auto-generated URLs, like the standard blog post page.

What can you do to have URLs that are more search engine-friendly?

Some blogging programs allow you to choose what type of URL (or permalink) you want to be created.

For WordPress users, from your dashboard click on “options” and then “permalinks.” From here you will have 3 standard choices, plus the option to create your own custom permalink structure.

For this blog we have entered the following in the custom textfield, “/%category%/%postname%/”. This tells WordPress to create permalinks that include the category of the post followed by the name of the post. Feel free to use this for your blog, or see some other ideas at WPEngine and at Convert Binary.

2- Page Titles

One of the most important on-page factors for search engine rankings is the page title. Unfortunately, many bloggers do not change their page titles. In WordPress you can standardize how you want your page titles to appear by editing some code in the header.php file. Open up header.php and look for the title tag. The code between the title tags is what you want to edit.

For this blog we use the following code:

<title> <?php wp_title(' '); ?> <?php if(wp_title(' ', false)) { echo ' &lt; &lt; '; } ?> <?php bloginfo('name'); ?> </title>

This will create page titles that start with the name of the post and end with the name of the blog. Alternatively you can get the SEO Title Tag plugin that will easily allow you to create titles for your posts and pages.

For Movable Type users, the page titles can be changed on the settings tab.

WordPress offers the most versatility and ideally it’s the best solution if you can run a PHP/MySQL setup.

3 – Duplicate Content

No search engine likes to see duplicate content. Whether it is two pages on the same site with the same information or multiple pages on different sites with essentially the same information or content, the results can include pages being cast into Google’s supplemental index rather than the main index. Duplicate content is a major issue for blogs, as category pages and calendar/date pages often cause search engines to find the same content on multiple pages.

There are a few ways for bloggers to overcome duplicate content issues. One method is to use the robots.txt file to instruct search engines on which pages should be ignored, leaving just the primary pages to be indexed.

For more information about creating a robots.txt file for blogs and avoiding the supplemental index check out this guide for content structure and sitemaps.

Another option for WordPress users is the Duplicate Content Cure plugin.

You can also control how much content appears on your categories pages by choosing to have those pages display only the beginning of posts rather than the entire post. In this case the reader would click through to the main post page to read the entire article and search engines may not recognize the category page as having duplicate content.

WordPress users can do this by editing the archive template.

If you are using one of the default themes, open archive.php and look for the_content() Change “content” to “excerpt” and that’s it!

4 – Meta Tags

When designing a traditional, static website you have the option/ability to enter meta tags (descriptions) for each page. Although these tags a less influential on search engine rankings as they used to be, it doesn’t hurt to have them in your pages. However, most blogging programs do not give the user the option to add meta tags when writing a post.

For WordPress users the Add Meta Tags plugin will allow you to enter meta tags for any page.

Movable Type users should see the article from Anders Jacobsen and the article from Eldar Marcussen.

What is the Responsibility of a Web Designer in Regards to SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is an ongoing process that cannot truly be accomplished by designing a website in a particular way, although a designer can cripple a site’s chances with a poor foundation. Building a search engine-friendly website should be the task of the designer, but there can be some gray areas.

When it comes to optimizing a website’s page titles, headers, and similar elements, we step into the gray area of the responsibility of the designer. Of course, the designer should make a considerable effort to build a site that is optimized, but what is the responsibility of the designer and what is the responsibility of the customer?

If you are paying a designer to build a site for you and you’re not giving him or her specific keywords and phrases that you would like to target, you are leaving it up to the designer to determine what words and phrases the site will be optimized for, and in many cases this is not in your best interest.

As a business owner, your website’s optimization is much more important to you than it is for the designer (that’s not to say that a designer doesn’t care, but the designer’s attention will typically be focused on the look and functionality of the site). You know your customers and potential customers better than the designer does, so shouldn’t you have some say in what words and phrases you target?

If the customer is not very knowledgeable about SEO and keyword targeting, and most won’t be, the ideal situation is for the designer and the client to work together on this issue. From my experience, one of the easiest ways to get a customer involved in this way is to simply explain that the words and phrases used throughout the site (titles, headers, etc.) will have a direct impact on the site’s ability to rank well. I typically will ask customers to give me a list of words and phrases that they think potential visitors might use in a search. This can be especially important when designing a site in an industry that I am not very familiar with.

Of course, some research may need to be done, and this can be another gray area. Should the customer take the responsibility to do keyword research or should the designer? My experience is that this research is usually more effective if the customer is involved, but that is not always possible. The designer should be knowledgeable enough to advise customers and should be willing to help, but ultimately it is best for the customer to be as involved as possible. Basically, if the customer is concerned with SEO, being involved in the process should be a reasonable expectation.

Setting realistic expectations may also be a responsibility of a designer. I’ve had some potential customers come to me and say, “I was told that you know how to make my website rank first or second for (insert ultra-competitive keyword here).” In this situation I obviously think it is important to point out that SEO requires ongoing work that can’t usually be accomplished just by creating the site a certain way. I often recommend that customers add a blog to their website to get more content and improve its chances for ranking well.

While this is just a quick summary, these are the most important SEO topics that bloggers and designers will face compared to issues faced with traditional websites.

By understanding the unique qualities that a blog has in comparison with a static website and knowing what options and resources are available, you can create a blog that is ready for search engines.

To learn more about building great content check out these related posts:

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads.