This expert advice post on 5 Blogging Rules Thou Shalt Not Break is written by Brad McMillen of Shoreline Interactive in Irvine, a company specializing in search-engine optimization and ranking. I have been working with the awesome guys at Shoreline for a few weeks now, trying to up my blog game. I hope my fellow bloggers will find this helpful, I sure did! By the way, I am SO busted on the last point on #4 below. Here is what he writes…
You’ve probably heard the phrase “serving two masters” and how it’s impossible to do. In most cases it’s true that you’re better off to not even try.
When it comes to blogging, however, you do have two masters—your readers and the search engines—and you have to please them both.
Your words must resonate with your readers and have them coming back for more. Your posts must be optimized so search engines know what you’re writing about so you can get more traffic. Neglecting one master or the other means your blog is underperforming.
So how do you simultaneously serve your readers and the search engines without losing your mind?
A few simple blogging rules are all you need to make your posts shine for readers and search engines. You, as the writer, have more power than you know.
Keep these five blogging rules in mind for your posts:
Rule Number 1: Write for your readers
With the SEO gremlin in your ear, it’s possible to get distracted from your real purpose: to write something of value for your readers.
It won’t matter if you get search-engine ranking or have a flawlessly optimized post if the content is boring.
Give your readers something they can use, and they’ll keep coming back.
Rule Number 2: Make your content easy to read
I’m sorry to break this to you, but a lot of your readers scan your posts. Time is short and they rarely read your entire post word for juicy word.
Make your content scannable by using short sentences, short paragraphs, basic words (show off your mad vocabulary another time), and use lists or bullet points whenever possible.
Subheads are an excellent way to make your content scannable: A reader should be able to know what your post is about by reading the subheads only.
Bonus: Search engines dig subheads too.
Rule Number 3: Use one keyword per post
Keyword research is important because it tells you what people are searching for online. When you use those keywords in your posts, you improve your chances of showing up on page one of the search engines. You should be thinking about keywords before you write your post.
As tempting as it is to try to cram all of your keywords into one post (maybe so you don’t have to sit down and write another post anytime soon?), don’t do it: You’ll end up all over the place with a clunky piece of content and will get limited attention from search engines.
Follow these guidelines if you want to impress the search engines:
Use your keyword in your title—preferably toward the beginning—but only if it makes sense. Don’t force it in and have an awkward title.
Put your keyword in the first 5 to 10 words of your post, or at least in the first paragraph.
Try to have the keyword account for 2-3% of the overall word count. This is called “keyword density” and is a simple calculation:
Number of words in the keyword phrase (for example, “shoes” would be 1, “red shoes” would be 2) multiplied by the number of times the keyword or keyword phrase appears in the overall post, then divided by the total word count in the post.
Tag your post if (your site has tags). Tags are short descriptions used to signal the theme(s) of your post. If it turns out that your tags and keywords are the same then that’s great but not a requirement. Use five tags maximum per post.
Rule Number 4: Check your style
Invest in a style guide. The Yahoo! Style Guide is great because 1.) it deals with all those forgettable high school grammar issues (What’s a dangling participle again?) and 2.) it’s full of the best practices for online content. You can buy it new or used on Amazon for around $10.
Four points from the style guide that you can put into practice today:
Do not underline your content when you are trying to emphasize something. Underlines can confuse readers because they appear to be links. Instead, use bold or italics.
Reserve the use of bold or italics for things you really want to draw attention to—a document littered with bold and italics tells the reader you don’t really know what’s important.
DON’T USE ALL CAPS BECAUSE ALL CAPS ARE THE EQUIVALENT OF SCREAMING AT SOMEONE. Instead, only use them when something is important: WARNING – YOU ARE ABOUT TO DELETE YOUR LIFE’S WORK.
Use exclamation points sparingly. If you are trying to show excitement, then dig out the thesaurus and find the right word to convey emotion to your readers.
Rule Number 5: Finish strong
Closing out your post is one of the hardest things to do. It’s also one of the most important things to do.
Ask yourself what you want your reader to do next. You’ve got to “ask for the order” because if you’ve just written a Pulitzer-level post, then don’t waste the opportunity to get some business out of it.
A great way to finish is to have a call-to-action (CTA). Ask your reader to subscribe to your blog. Make your readers feel comfortable leaving a comment by inviting them to do so. Give them the ability to share your post with other people with social media badges or email forwarding.
These were five simple blogging rules to help you write better posts for readers and search engines. Of course, there are many more things we could mention.
What rules or tips can we add to the list of five we just started? Please comment below – it would be great to compile a list of 50 blogging rules with your input.