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SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is the practice of optimising your content to make it easier for search engines to index your blog in their search results.
This, in turn, means that other people are more likely to find your website of their own accord, boosting your views and helping you to find new readers.
The good news is that you don’t even need to be technically minded to do this. Whilst SEO can be complex, the core principles remain the same.
This Beginner’s Guide to SEO uses examples relating to the book blogging community, as they are my audience. However, these tips, tricks, and nuggets of guidance are perfectly applicable to any blogger or content writer.
So what exactly is SEO?
As you probably know, Google dominates the internet.
In fact, around 92% of search engine traffic goes through Google alone. Alternatives such as Bing and Yahoo (amongst others) make up the rest.
Therefore, what I want you to take away is this – Google is primarily where your potential readers go in order to find content.
It is therefore in your interest to get your blog to appear in Google search results. Especially when you consider that roughly 5.6 BILLION searches are made every single day!
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is where this comes in. It’s exactly as the phrase suggests – optimising your blog content in a way that appeals to a search engine’s algorithms.
This might sound complicated, or even a little tedious, but it’s actually quite straightforward in principle.
How does Google rank content?
There are hundreds of ranking factors that could affect where your blog posts appear in Google, but it all returns to one thing – how valuable is your content?
Not in a monetary factor, but what value does your content bring to the user searching for it?
To address this, it’s important to recognise what Google Search actually is. It’s a commercial business that makes money by sending users to the right place, at the right time, at great speed. That’s why the first thing anybody ever does when they want to have a question answered, is to go straight to Google.
Google therefore ranks web pages based on their perceived value.
For example, perhaps you want to search for reviews of the novel Dune.
If you do a Google Search for ‘Dune’, you’ll get a variety of results back. Some for showtimes of the movie Dune, and even results for the high street store, Dune London. All this does is create confusion, frustration, and ultimately leave you disappointed.
But you already know this, which is why – if you’re looking specifically for book reviews – you’ll search for something like ‘Dune Book Review’ or ‘Frank Herbert Dune Review’, or ’review of the novel Dune’.
So, when you’re writing your own Dune book review, you’ll want to try and include keywords like these, and a number of variations, so that your post is seen by Google to have intrinsic value to the topic the user is searching for.
In brief, SEO is how you’ll find the novel, rather than the retail store.
How do I Improve my SEO?
There are loads of ways you can improve your SEO. Here are a few methods designed for beginners.
Download the Yoast WordPress Plugin
Presuming that your blog is based on WordPress, download and install the Yoast plugin. No need to pay for the premium version – the free version of Yoast is more than enough.
This will give you an insight into how well-optimised your pages and blog posts are, according to the keyword you’re targeting on that page (more on this later).
It’ll also give you tips on how readable your content is, such as whether sentences are too long or short, or whether you’re using too much of the passive voice in your writing.
Yoast is really cool, and a must-have for getting started with SEO.
Target One Keyword Per Page
Contrary to the name, a keyword is barely ever just a single word but a phrase that users search for.
Look at your search history. You’ll notice that you’ve probably not used full sentences, instead typing ‘best UK book bloggers’ vs ‘who are the best UK book bloggers’.
You’ll want to try and include these (relevant) keywords in every blog post or book review you write. You should begin by using the Yoast plugin to focus on one specific keyword that gets a lot of search volume.
To refer back to the Dune example from earlier in this SEO Beginners Guide (see what I did there? Keyword!), your keyword might simply be ‘Dune Book Review’. However, there are plenty of other ways keywords you could use.
To find new keywords, look for topics that users are searching for on Google. How do you find these? Well, check out the ‘people also ask’ section that pops up every time you do a search. These are hot topics people are asking, so you might want to include the question and your own answer in your blog post.
You can also use Google’s own free Keyword Planner. To use this properly, simply click ‘discover new keywords’. There’s a lot of information thrown at you on this screen, but to keep things simple, just pay attention to the Keyword Ideas and Avg. Monthly Searches columns.
You’ll notice that Dune book review is getting 480 searches per month (not bad), whereas Dune reviews is getting over 22,000. This might lead you to use ‘dune reviews’ as your keyword.
The problem here is that people may come to your site expecting a review of the movie, and then leave immediately once they realise it isn’t relevant, which can impact your SEO.
You’re always best to target relevant keywords to avoid this happening.
Optimise One Page at a Time
It’s worth knowing that Google ranks your website based on your pages, not your domain.
What this means is that pages are ranked according to their keyword, rather than your entire site. This means that if you work hard to optimise one really great piece of content, you can get that blog post to appear high in Google’s ranking.
With this in mind, pick a blog post you would like to rank in Google (ideally start with one that already gets a good amount of views).
Once you’ve picked a page you want to optimise for Google, do some keyword research (as noted above) and pick one high quality keyword.
Once you’ve chosen this keyword, enter it into your Yoast plugin on the blog post you’ve chosen to optimise. Follow the instructions that the Yoast plugin gives you (readability is less important) until the icon at the top goes green.
For more information on how to use the plugin, check out Yoast’s Beginners Guide to SEO and pay particular attention to the section on Keyword Focus.
Good Site Structure
Is your content easy to find?
In an ideal world, you’ll be able to access every single page and blog post on your website within three clicks. This is much harder to achieve with a large corporate website, but with a blog, this should be perfectly doable.
You might start by having separate pages or categories for your blog posts/book reviews/author interviews, with links to these respective pages/filters in your navigation menu at the top of your website.
Take a look at how Tales from Absurdia is structured. There is always a nav bar at the top of each page, with links to each of my main types of posts, but on my homepage, I also include visual cues that link to each of these (blogs, book reviews, interviews).
If it’s easy for humans to find all of your content, it’ll be much easier for Google’s web crawling bots to find your content – and therefore your website!
Try to avoid putting all of your unfiltered content as a stream on your homepage – it’s confusing, bad for SEO, and hard for readers to find your older articles.
Proper Image Filenames and Alt Tags
Don’t upload images named F222hf[dnfioff.jpg.
Filenames are a useful indicator to Google what exactly your article relates to (and don’t forget – Google Image Search is a thing!). Random letters and numbers will not appear in anybody’s image search.
Try and include your keyword in your filename, as long as it makes sense.
Also – please use alt tags. Not only are they signifiers for Google, they’re an essential accessibility for visually impaired internet users. Don’t leave them blank!
Good Blog Post Structure
As discussed before, proper structuring of your blog is good for users and it’s good for Google. This advice also applies to the way you present your blog posts.
Ever see those H1/H2/H3/e.t.c tags whilst writing your blogs?
Well, they have a function beyond making your text bigger or smaller. In fact, they’re an important means of structuring your blog posts for Google’s web crawler.
They stand for Heading 1, Heading 2 (and so on).
Think of them in a pyramid structure, with H1 (your title) at the top, and the subsequent H2/H3s fanning out as additional topical subheadings.
In short, H-tags give your blog post a digital skeleton, functioning as lightning rods to Google, stating exactly what your page topic is about. You’ll want to include your keywords, and keyword variations, in these.
There are various opinions amongst SEO experts as to what difference H2/H3/H4 tags make, but one thing is certain – never have more than one H1 on your page.
A H1 should only ever be your title, and any additional H1s will have an actively negative impact on your blog’s visibility.
Get Links to your Website
When someone links to your website – especially another blogger with high domain authority – it’s a signal to Google that your content is a) trusted; and b) contains value. Therefore, it’s in your interest to get as many backlinks as possible.
Backlinks is simply the SEO shorthand for when another website links to your domain (blog/website).
Participating in social media-led ‘book tags’ is a great way for book bloggers to do this. If you aren’t familiar with book tags, they’re essentially chain blogs that work on a particular theme. The Create Your Own Fellowship Book Tag is a particularly cool one I took part in last year, whereby I picked a book to represent each member of the fellowship in The Lord of the Rings.
At the end of a book tag, you tag an additional 5-10 bloggers by linking to their websites, and then ask them to produce a post of their own, tagging you in their response.
Book tags are a great way to share book recommendations, engage in fandoms, and – of course – get those backlinks.
Next time you’re on social media, see if anyone is currently working on a book tag and ask to get involved. Or even better – start one of your own. If it goes viral, every single book tag blog post will include a link back to your blog!
But Don’t Neglect Internal Linking!
Internal linking, i.e. linking to other pages and blog posts on your website is also crucial. After all, it makes navigation easier for both humans and Google’s web crawling bots.
For example, if you’re writing up a monthly ‘in review’ blog post about everything you read and reviewed this month, include links to each and every review you posted. This will help readers find your original review, but it’ll also create a skeleton of your website for Google to crawl more easily.
Always use internal links.
Two BIG SEO No-Nos (never do these)
Never do any of the following two things. Your site will get penalised, and in the case of the latter, you may even get struck off of Google.
1) Don’t Over-Optimise Keywords
So, you’ve found some amazing keywords and can’t wait to optimise your article. Do not use them more often than what Yoast recommends – this is called keyword stuffing and is considered to be spam.
Keyword stuffing makes content read in an unnatural way, and is therefore terrible for the user experience. But Google’s algorithm will also spot this and knock you down the rankings, harming your reputation.
2) Never buy backlinks
This is something that, if you’re a hobby blogger, you’d never even consider doing.
Still, don’t buy backlinks, or trade with others en masse, under any circumstances. This is known as black hat SEO and will get you delisted from Google if you get caught out.
Book tags are not counted as trading backlinks as far as I am aware, as they have a role in the sharing of creative work.
In short, don’t do trade-for-trade backlinks and don’t buy them – it’s a rubbish thing to do, especially when doing it for free is so simple, and will only cause harm.
Does SEO cost anything?
No. Absolutely nothing.
Part of the reason businesses hire SEO experts is because, beyond wages, search engine optimisation can be done for comparatively cheap. It is, however, a highly skilled role.
Obviously, there are some amazing paid tools out there to help track search engine visibility, make suggestions, and monitor your keywords, but these are for more commercial purposes.
If you’re running a hobby blog, simply stick to the tips in this article – all free – and you’ll be on your way to ranking on Google!
Is SEO Worth it?
Absolutely – if you’re willing to put the time in.
If you’re a book blogger, the majority of your traffic probably comes from social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or more. The same applies if you’re a blogger in any other niche.
But these views are reliant on you posting every day – and it’s easy to get burnt out on social media quite quickly.
In any case, if you’re a blogger, you’re likely doing it for free and (hopefully) for enjoyment and social media burnout is not fun.
So, ideally you’d like to get more blog views without having to do a thing?* This is where SEO comes in.
It’s worth bearing in mind that SEO isn’t an overnight ‘one-and-done’ sort of job. It’s not something you do, and then the views roll in. It must be a part of your weekly blogging routine. Every post you write should be written with it in mind.
*SEO is not a substitute for social media and your SEO can actually improve with increased use of social. It’s just another tool to drive traffic to your website.
SEO Beginners Guide FAQ
Search Engine Optimisation is the formatting of content in a manner that appeals to a search engine’s algorithm.
Increased organic traffic from Google, without having to rely on social media, or pay for ads.
Hard to say. If you’re running an established website that fluctuates in rankings, then minor changes can lead to increased rankings in only a couple of weeks.
As a new blog, Tales from Absurdia took about 10 months to start achieving regular organic traffic. Your experience, and the time you have to dedicate to SEO, will bring this forward or push it back.
Evergreen topics are perfect. These are blog posts that are not time-sensitive and therefore don’t age.
An example of this might be a ‘How to’ guide or tutorial.
Adding to evergreen topics over time and updating them can lead to some really impressive SEO results – if it’s a piece that provides value to the reader.
Listicles (‘7 amazing ways….’) always perform well on social media too – and they typically only require minor tweaks over the years. BuzzFeed does listicles very successfully, so check some of their articles out.
One thing I’ve learned over the years, and as I’ve become a better writer, is that you don’t need to choose between writing fluid,
well-written content and writing SEO articles for Google.
There’s a happy middle-ground where it reads well AND hits all the right notes for a successful ranking on Google!
Got any questions? Find my SEO Beginners Guide helpful? Drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you
11 thoughts on “SEO Beginners Guide for Bloggers”
Dropping in from your link on Pages Unbound’s post. I am slowly working my way down your list and I shall try the bits that I think I’m capable of doing as I’m not that technical. Names my images is an area that I can improve. It is good to keep the blog fresh and up to date where I can. Thank you.
Thanks for dropping by, and for your comment, Rosie!
Let me know how you get on. If you have any questions, or if the advice isn’t clear, just let me know and I’ll get back to you ?
Bookmarked, thank you for the info.
I’m relatively new to book blogging, about ten months or so, and am still waiting to see an improvement in visits from the search engines. Yoast sounds incredibly useful but I’m using Squarespace so don’t have that option.
SEO has been a bit of a minefield but informative posts like this help to clarify some things for me.
Thanks for the comment, Adrian – really glad to hear you found this to be a useful resource.
Yoast is great because it let’s you know if you’re under-optimising (or over-optimising – watch out for that!) but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have access to it. So long as you’re doing the basics, you’ll see improvements.
Incidentally, you may notice after you hit the 12 month mark that you’ll start getting more organic traffic. My first year of blogging relied heavily on social traffic to get off the ground, but once you hit a certain point, search engines ‘trust’ your site more (provided you’re doing the SEO basics). I’m not sure that there’s formal evidence of this, but having worked on my own sites, as well as ones for work, this does seem to be a trend. Rankings are based on trust and value, so it makes sense.
Incidentally, I found this article for you. I’m not too knowledgeable of running a Squarespace site but this article is really useful for making sure you’re hitting those basics:
If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch 🙂
This is insanely useful. I will be bookmarking it for future reference!
Thank you so much, Maria! Comments like that really make my day!
Thanks for taking the time to read & comment.
Thanks for breaking down this often complex (and overwhelming) information. Blogging has a lot to it and SEO is so important that it’s good to have a stronger understanding of it. This post was really useful!
Thanks Molly! That’s really appreciated.
Definitely – if you’re putting all that work into writing a blog post, it’s always nice to reap the benefits from a SEO point of view too!
Excellent post. SEO is so important. You covered everything brilliantly.
Thanks Jo, that means a lot coming from you!