The hard truth about using blogs for SEO

It’s all about adding value to the mix

I am sure you have been told that blogs are good for SEO, but what does that actually mean? Does simply having a blog have a positive effect on SEO, or is there more to it that you’re not being told?

For many, the word “blog” is synonymous with content, and that is partially true. Content is definitely a vital part of a blog that can correlate to an increase in high-value traffic — but there is so much more that goes into getting SEO value than just publishing content.

Let’s first explore what a blog actually is.

What is a blog?

A blog, at its core, is nothing more than a framework to publish and organize content assets. From a publisher’s standpoint the benefits of a blog include:

  • The ability to create a taxonomy to organize content into categories.
  • The ability to publish content inside of a WYSIWYG editor, so there is little need to understand CSS or HTML.
  • Management of content calendars and publishing calendars for content creation teams.
  • Enabling social sharing through easy-to-use plugins and modules.

From an SEO standpoint the benefits of a blog framework include:

  • Functionality that helps search engines effectively and efficiently discover content.
  • Helps users discover, share, and link to content.

So, does simply having a blog mean you will drive more search engine traffic, and rank in Google? NO!

Here’s what it takes to have a blog that helps your SEO:

Valuable content

content-post

The hard truth: High-value content is by far the most vital part of having a successful blog. If you think you are going to pump out 500 word articles, and they’re going to rank well and drive quality traffic, you’re going to be disappointed.

There are five core elements to address when trying to create content that both users and search engines love.

Keyword research

The hard truth: We need to stop with the “keyword density” talk (unless you want to sound like you’re from 1999). Let’s start talking about keyword diversity and content depth.

For some, the biggest hurdle to creating content that drives traffic is understanding which keywords to target or topics to write about. Some people simply go to Google’s Keyword Planner Tool or a tool like SEMrush, and try to find keywords that have a high search volume — but this is only one of the eight factors you need to explore when searching for great topics:

  1. Search volume
  2. Conversion value
  3. Brand value
  4. Persona value
  5. Trending value
  6. Competitive value
  7. Funnel value
  8. Social value

Rand Fishkin from Moz.com put a slightly different slant on the eight dimensions in a recent Whiteboard Friday video.

Title and headline

The hard truth: The title and headline can be the difference between 10 people reading your article, or 10,000. There are a few things to remember when creating your blog post title:

  • Include your primary keyword target.
  • Make it catchy, but not so fluffy that the meaning is lost.
  • Make sure it speaks to your target persona.
  • Keep it short and concise so the entire title can be included when shared on social media, and shown in the SERPs.

Create deep content

The hard truth: We have to stop the trend of pumping out low-value 500 word articles. In the majority of cases they don’t perform well because they don’t sufficiently cover a topic or provide enough value to earn links — not to mention they mirror what content farms have been producing for years (and we know how that turned out for them, *Google Slap*).

There have been many studies about content length, but one in particular that’s gained visibility is from the team at serpIQ. They analyzed the length of the articles that made up the top 10 Google results for more than 20,000 keywords. What they found was that long-form content performed much better in the search results than short-form content.

post-length

So what should you consider when thinking about how long your article should be? There really is only one question: “How long does it have to be to provide enough value that a user would not have to go somewhere else to solve their problem?”

Content diversity and structure

The hard truth No. 1: You’re frustrating users if you’re creating articles that don’t have a content hierarchy to make them easy to scan.

The hard truth No. 2: If your articles don’t have a topic structure, you’re keeping Google from effectively understanding them.

Because of these hard truths, it’s important to structure your blog posts in a way that aligns with user and search engine behavior. This includes:

  • Making sure every piece of content includes text and another asset such as images or videos.
  • Structuring your articles using headings and subheadings.
  • Use short, concise paragraphs.
  • Diversifying content types by including both timely and evergreen content, as well as articles of varying content length.

Publish content consistently

The hard truth: If the content that you’re publishing is garbage, then publishing frequency won’t mean anything.

Publishing frequency should depend on how often you’re able to create content that is of high-value. Some companies will be able to create high-value content on a daily basis because they have large content teams, others can only publish weekly — either works as long as the value remains high.

Content organization and taxonomy

structure

The hard truth: Without proper content organization to help users discover content, and a proper taxonomy for search engines to crawl and organize your content, you’ll end up confusing both persona types.

  • User confusion keeps visitors from finding the information they are seeking, and causes bounce rate to increase.
  • Search engine confusion causes a lack of trust from the search engines, and an inability to effectively understand keyword focus, content value and site structure.

Should you use categories or tags?

Since they don’t have the depth of content needed to also use tags, 99 percent of websites should only use categories. We also found that even when there is enough content to warrant the use of tags, tag management is inefficient and results in duplicate content and wasted search engine crawl budget.

How many categories should your blog have?

Too many categories will thin out content sets and too few categories will be too generic. For the majority of websites with less than 1,000 articles, 10 categories or less should be sufficient.

How many categories should each post be placed in?

I would suggest one primary and one secondary category. This helps focus Google’s crawl and discovery of content, and keeps categories from being bloated.

Note: If you have the category in the URL of your post page, placing a post in multiple categories will cause duplicate content issues.

Design and experience

design

The hard truth: A study published in The Journal of Behaviour and Information Technology shows it takes just 50 milliseconds for a user to form an opinion about your website, and that these first impressions have a lasting impact — making the experience your visitors have extremely important.

With that said, you might have heard about the strategies of “SEO Website Design” or “User Centered Website Design,” but not sure what they mean.

SEO Website Design is the practice of creating a website or blog with all the essential foundational elements needed to have solid on-site search engine value when the website launches.

User Centered Website Design is the practice of understanding your users’ journey and intent,  and building those insights into the design and content of your website.

Both of these web design strategies help create the solid foundation that is needed for users to have a positive experience when visiting your website. Moreover, combining these two web design strategies can create a website experience that increases site traffic and gets users to engage with and share your content. This leads to increased trust in your business and increased sales of your products or services.

Social integration

social-amplification

The hard truth: Creating an easy and effective way for users to share your content is important when trying to achieve brand amplification. Now you’re probably wondering if social sharing affects search engine ranking; the short answer is yes, but not in the way you might think.

Google has said many times that they don’t use Tweets or Facebook social signals to rank pages. But, whereas they might not use them directly to rank pages, they have been known to use the user metrics that are a result of social amplification to influence their rankings for short periods of time.

The two ways social media affects rankings are:

  1. User metrics: When you share something of value it tends to get shared many times, and drives traffic back to the piece of content on your blog. It is this influx of traffic and user metrics that can impact rankings.
  2. Gaining links: This is based on the premise that the more people within your primary persona target who see your high-value content, the higher the chance that they will link to it, or share it with someone who will.

As you can see there are many factors that go into creating a blog that has a positive impact on SEO and traffic growth. In all honesty, using blogs for SEO is by no means easy — but the benefits of creating something of value can far outweigh the work it takes.

Bill Ross
Bill is the founder of Linchpin, a Digital Strategy and Web Design Agency, and Epik Interactive, a design agency built to help small businesses create great online experiences. He started both agencies on the core belief that all companies, irregardless of size, should have the same opportunities in regards to quality of work and access to senior-level digital marketers. Bill’s 10-year background in digital marketing and building online companies has helped him rise to strategic lead for some of the largest online brands and content websites in the world. With a degree in psychology, Bill believes the priority to understand the user surpasses most others; the end product must provide value through engaging content assets that drive traffic, engagement, search rankings, and ultimately conversions.