I’m going to cover how I enhanced the content of a recent blog post to help ensure it shows up at the top of Google Search results, which will ultimately help drive more readers to my blog.
There are a number of factors that determine where a webpage shows up in a Google Search, also called Page Rank. One major factor in Page Rank is content optimization or really just updating an article to make it easier for both bots and human readers to know the key topics covered.
If you aren’t familiar with how Google’s Search Engine works here’s a very quick overview. Google has a bunch of bots crawl the entirety of the internet and categorize websites. You can think the bots as a bunch of invisible librarians collecting websites and cataloguing them to different shelves in a giant, digital library. People who manage websites have a number of standards to follow to help these bots navigate and categorize a website. In the industry, we call these standards Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short.
For this article, I am targeting an old blog post and updating it to target specialized, lightly competitive topics or keywords in an attempt to rank on google search results for a niche market. Basically, I’m trying to target a very specific subset of Google Searches that less websites would be covering and competing with me over.
Getting Started with Content Improvements
First off, you’ll want to ensure you’ve installed Google Search Console and Google Analytics, so you can begin tracking searches that lead to your website and page traffic. This will help you track the results from your changes. You aren’t going to get to the top of Google Search in a day but you need to see if you’re making progress otherwise you’ll need to try another strategy or more keywords.
The content of the post I’m targeting for this article was a simple listing of a few hikes I had done over the summer in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. It was just a list with some minor descriptions and pictures but it had already gotten some visits from user’s who had naturally found my website through google searches. We call these types of visitors organic traffic in the digital marketing world.
Step 1: Research Keywords
Keywords or the words and phrases that may be in a reader’s search must be relevant to the content you are creating. The key is to think about your target audience and how they would search for something. For example, if I was targeting locals to an area I might use specific city or feature names such as Ithaca or Seneca Lake whereas if I was targeting tourists I might want something more general such as Finger Lakes or Northern New York. There are many useful Keyword planning tools (some free, some paid) that help your strategize what you should target.
Start by Making a list of relevant Keywords for your Article
Examples of Keywords from my blog post include: Hikes, finger lakes, waterfalls, dog-friendly, New York State, Seneca Lake, Ithaca, Nature, Trails, Lakes, Watkins Glen, Parks, Finger Lakes, Fingers Lake, Ithaca New York, Letchworth State Park, Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock Falls, Seneca Lake, Robert Treman State Park
Make a list of Long-Tail Keywords
These are more specific searches visitors who are more likely to be looking for your exact content would use, we call those high-intent visitors.
- Finger Lakes Waterfalls
- Hiking Trails near Ithaca, NY
- Best Hiking in the Finger Lakes
Now Find Keywords with Low Competition
Keywords planner tools will be vital for this part but you could also just search your keywords and see how many articles surface to get an idea of how competitive it is.
If you are just starting out, It’s better to find a more specific, less competitive market to surface your content than to try to compete with more general terms. While the reach for these keywords will be smaller, the likelihood of ranking higher and serving the needs of a website visitor will increase. Most Google Search users don’t go beyond the first page of their search results so it’s more important to rank higher on smaller volume searches than rank lower for high volume searches.
For my blog post I determined, Finger Lakes Waterfalls would have much less search volume than New York trails but be far less competitive for those words.
Based on my research it also became clear that “hiking” and “trails” provided more value than the word “hikes” and I have several hikes at parks that have high ranking values so I may want to try to add mentions of those places higher up on the page but I will cover that when I get to Step 3.
Step 2: Create an Optimized Headline
The Do’s & Don’ts of creating Optimized Article Headlines that are attractive to readers and Google Search bots
Do include keywords in the headline.
Keywords help search engines find and categorize your page and it’s valuable for users searching for content.
Do use words to create an emotional connection with readers.
Articles with titles that trigger an emotional response increase the likelihood that someone will connect with it and want to read the article.
Do include proper names and places.
If your blog post covers a person or a place, be sure to include that in your title. Searches with proper nouns are common and generally less competitive than general search terms. I.e. Finger Lakes Waterfall Trails vs Waterfall Trails
Do try writing more than one headline.
Write several headlines for the same piece of content and pick the best one that most reflects your content and targeted keywords.
Do not use a headline that doesn’t reflect the content of the website.
This will cause people to leave, in marketing lingo, we call these “bounces” and there’s no real value in web visitors that leave right away.
Do not write a long, verbose headline just to include more keywords.
These do not help SEO and they are less likely to be clicked by a user, keep it to 50-60 characters. The search engine crawlers don’t process anything beyond that character limit anyway.
Do not include a barely coherent headline that’s just full of your researched keywords.
This is commonly known as Keyword stuffing. It is a page ranking technique that attempts to trick the search engine bots into ranking a page by including unnecessarily repeating words and phrases. It includes adding words out of context or using words that aren’t relevant to the page content. Not only does this ruin a visitor’s experience of a page this could cause the offending website to get penalized. Google could decrease a website’s ranking or remove it from google search results entirely.
My Current Headline:
Hikes & Parks in the Finger Lakes Region
Potential New Headlines
- New York’s Finger Lakes Trails: 15 of my favorite hikes near Seneca Lake
- New York’s Finger Lakes : 15 of the Best trails near Seneca Lake
- New York: 15 incredible lake & waterfall trails in the Finger Lakes
- 15 Gorgeous trails near Seneca Lake in New York
- New York: 15 incredible dog-friendly Finger Lakes hikes near Ithaca
- New York: 15 Incredible Hikes near Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes Region
- 15 Hikes near Seneca Lake
- 15 Family Friendly hikes near Ithaca, New York
Step 3: Populate Your Meta Data
The Meta Description is a hidden description on the webpage meant for search engine bots. It’s what’s usually shown to Google Search Users in the Search Engine Results Page aka the SERP. This can be considered a very short introduction to your content in a couple of sentences and should include targeted keywords while still avoiding keyword stuffing. I want my meta description it to be compelling enough to entice a user to click through to my article but also informative to the search engine to make sure it helps the page rank on Google Search. Another important note is it should be under 300 characters.
One of the best tools for maintaining and auditing metadata on WordPress sites is the Yoast SEO Plugin.The Yoast SEO Plugin is free, though there is a premium version but it is vital for anyone on WordPress that wants to get started with SEO Optimizations on their website.
Current Meta Data Description:
New Meta Data Description:
From beautiful waterfalls to tranquil green lakes, The Finger Lakes offers some of the best waterside trails in New York State. Here are 12 of my favorite trails that are completely dog-friendly.
Step 4: Optimize Content to Rank in Search
Since I’m working backwards and cleaning up an already written blog post, the main thing I want to focus on is including variations of my keywords through my writing and adding an introduction. This will help search engine bots and human visitors understand the content of my website and also helps enhance my writing for human readers since I’m not repeating the same words over and over again.
The main focus of this update is to include keywords in the first paragraph. Such keywords as Finger Lakes Trails and Seneca Lake Waterfalls since those are general enough to cover most of my content but specific enough to get the appropriate audience.
In my current article I went right into the list without an introduction at all. Not only is this not helpful for page rank, it’s not a great experience for a reader who might not be as familar with the Finger Lakes or what the area has to offer.
I want to remember include the keywords at a regular cadence but I do not want to go overboard. Not only could this potentially get penalized for keyword stuffing (see the explanation in Step 1) but this doesn’t make for a very good article for a human reader.
Step 5: Add Optimized Visuals
You want users to stay on your web page and read your entire article, one way to do that is to use visuals to keep a reader engaged. Even though the amount of time on page is an indirect factor in getting to the top of Google Search results, it does help and it provides value for visitors to continue to experience a website.
It’s important to ensure all videos and images are the appropriate size for the page. Large media will slow down the loading time of the page and create a bad experience for your visitors.
I recommend optimizing images through a free image optimization tool, there are plenty out there if you just search around. If you use WordPress there are a several quality plugins that will handle this step for you, all you have to do is upload the image and it will compress it for you with zero effort.
If you are using another CMS check to see if it already supports image compression or research ways to compress images yourself. I prefer to optimize my images before uploading them to WordPress, a favorite tool of mine is ImageOptim, which only works on Mac computers but they offer alternative tools if you visit their website.
Step 5: Add Alt Text to Images
In addition to adding visuals to create a better experience for your users you want to ensure that all of you images have alternative text or Alt text. Alt text helps images surface in Google Search and are another gateway for users to enter your page. Alt Text also helps visually impaired readers know the content of an image. If you are on WordPress adding alternative text is very simple.
A few key points to remember when making alt text for a blog’s images:
- Limit the characters, Use 125 characters or less
- Describe the image and be specific as possible
- Since you’re already limited on characters don’t bother including “Image Of” or “Picture of”
- Use Keywords that are relevant to the picture.
The Yoast SEO Plugin on WordPress will warn you if you are missing alternative tags on images anywhere on your page. Another helpful feature of the free version of the tool.
Step 6: Link to additional Blog Posts
Don’t force this but if you happen to mention past blog posts that are related to your current topic and potentially valuable to your reader then link to them. Not only does this keep users on your site and keeps them engaged, it also helps show the value of your content to search engines
The Yoast SEO Plugin also makes note if a page is missing internal links (pages on the current website) or external links (pages on other websites) internal links.
Step 7 : Publish your updated posts and keep an eye on your analytics
If you followed my previous article about installing Google Analytics and Google Search Console on your website then you already have the tools ready to start see how your page is doing. You won’t see immediate results, that’s the frustrating things about website optimization, it’s more a wait and see sort of game. In the meantime you can log into Google Search Console and trigger your updated web page to be re-indexed so Google sees the changes sooner and then wait and see if it helps with your web traffic.
As I mentioned there are additional factors, beyond content optimization, that go into where a page ranks. Those factors include more technical aspects of a website such as page speed, schema, mobile friendliness, domain age and authority, and user experience. Which I will cover in a future blog post, subscribe to my blog for future updates.
Keep in mind that applying these changes to a brand new website on a new domain might take a bit longer to surface results so be patient.