5 Blogging Rules Thou Shalt Not Break

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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.


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.



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  1. 1
    Leslie says:

    Thank you so much for the tips! I’ve been attempting to up my blog game as well and it looks like I have a lot of work ahead! Good luck to you and up-ing your blog game! You have a faithful fan in me!

  2. 2
    jen says:

    Thanks Leslie! You know I am a fan of yours as well! Good luck upping your blog game. We will be cheering you on!

  3. 3
    Holly Giuliano says:

    This is great Jen! I know that at some point, I will probably do a fitness blog….so this is great info. (PS- I am guilty of that last one on number 4 as well!!!!!!!!!) 😉

  4. 4
    jen says:

    Holly, you have GOT to do a fitness blog! You let me know the minute it is launched and I will be a loyal follower! xo

  5. 5

    […] Read Full Post Here: 5 Rules of Blogging Thou Shalt Not Break […]

  6. 6

    i love these tips! i’ve just started ending with a question to my readers & it really seems to start up a dialogue!

  7. 7
    Shan says:

    Good stuff here! Thanks for sharing such pertinent info.
    The How to Guru

  8. 8

    Thank for your great tips! Stopping by from SITS.

  9. 9

    Thank you!! There is a wealth of info here. I knew ‘about’ most of this. But, I am going to walk away with several things that I can do NOW that will up my blog game dramatically. It makes me hungry to learn more. Again…thank you sooo much!!

  10. 10
    Norine says:

    This is so helpful as we develop our parenting humor blog. Thanks!

  11. 11

    Such helpful tips! Thank you! 🙂

  12. 12
    Paula says:

    Great concise info! love it! thank you! Paula

  13. 13

    I have a difficult time with high school grammatical errors. Especially with have and had. Thank you for the tips.


  14. 14

    Stopping by from SITS. Just the information that I needed this morning. Thanks for the clear and concise recommendations.

  15. 15
    Fadra says:

    This is the first I’ve heard of the Yahoo Style Guide. I’m getting ready to press the purchase button on Amazon but noticed the release date was 2010. Would you say the content is still pretty solid (no chance of being outdated)?

    • 16

      The Yahoo! Style Guide content is still solid. Writing rules don’t change as much as other things, like SEO. Keep in mind there are other style guides out there, like AP and Chicago, and their rules are slightly different because they apply to journalism and print. Every publication chooses a style guide to follow, and many (like HubSpot http://bit.ly/UuAcwH) create their own style guides. The Yahoo! Style Guide applies to best practices for online writing and is invaluable. Hope this helps!

  16. 17

    This is a great post–very informative! I’m going to bookmark it and try to incorporate these things in my posts. Also I was wondering if you could tell me how you made that email subscribe box at the end of your posts?

  17. 18

    What a great post, I am so glad that I found it. SEO is still something that I am trying to learn. Have a great week!

  18. 19

    Yikes! There are rules involved?


  19. 20
    ronnie says:

    Thanks for sharing some really great tips 🙂

  20. 21

    Hi. My name is Rabia and I am an exclamation point addict…I’m addicted to ellipses as well. Please help! 🙂

  21. 22
    Chasing Joy says:

    These are great tips. I did not know to only use 5 tags. I also did not know where to place the key words. Thanks for Sharing.

  22. 23

    Excellent points! Thank you for sharing.

  23. 24
    Sherry says:

    Thanks for the valuable tips. I’m going to need that Style Guide, for sure. Pinned this for others to see too. 🙂

  24. 25
    jen says:

    So happy you found the tips helpful. I love easy-to-follow SEO articles and I think Brad made it so clear.

    Heidi – I have a graphic designer that designed my footer. If you would like her info let me know!

  25. 26

    So glad SITS shared this post. Your tips are fantastic and should really help me finetune my posts. I had been wondering if there was a style guide of choice and had been loosely using AP for my blog. Thanks a bunch!

  26. 27
    Mary says:

    Thank you for this post! It was very helpful and informative!

  27. 28

    Awesome tips! I’m always looking for good advice about blogging. Thanks for sharing.

  28. 29

    It is posts like these that are helping me make my blog better and better. I really appreciate all the great advice.

  29. 30
    pregnancy says:

    I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog.
    Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this
    one these days.

  30. 31
    Nicole says:

    Just found this article through TheSITSgirls website. Great article. Looks like I’ve got some work to do. Thanks for the great tips!

  31. 32

    […] Blogging takes more than just putting some words on the page (or screen). Follow these tips from my guest blog post for the stellar mommy bloggers at Tiny Oranges and get your blog on track:  5 Blogging Rules Thou Shalt Not Break. […]

  32. 33
    Mridula says:

    hey Jen

    Thanks. Really to grow we need to please both our bosses simultaneously. Happy blogging 🙂

  33. 34

    Found your article through SITS. Thanks for the tips. Can you direct me to a sample of a key word rich post? I’ll look through the rest of your blog for examples too. Thanks!

  34. 35
    Kristi West says:

    Great tips. I recently read a book on all of this and I love that you put it in a easy to read post.

  35. 36
    Lawyers says:

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  36. 37
    Amber says:

    Thank you! I had forgotten about keywords before I read this!

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