Hear from 45 SEO experts on pillar page examples you can replicate to strengthen your internal link structure and overall search rankings.
Content Marketing | Oct 15
Elise Dopson on April 2, 2019 (last modified on May 14, 2019) • 30 minute read
Don’t sit around much longer–it takes more for a blog post to rank in Google than pot luck. There’s a science to it; a set of techniques, ranging from optimized content to clever distribution, that makes it possible.
Navigating the path to top rankings is a tricky task to conquer on your own.
That’s why we asked over 100 SEO experts to share their best tips for optimizing a blog post for SEO. From thinking twice about your keyword targeting to inserting relevant links, here’s what they said.
Search for any “SEO tips”-style post, and I’ll bet keywords make an appearance.
Rightly so; they’re the phrases your audience are actively searching for. Why wouldn’t you target them within your blog content to increase your chances of being shown for it?
“Having the right keywords in your blog is essential for SEO performance because they are one of the most obvious ways of showing Google how relevant your content actually is to an audience. It will rank you higher in search engine results if it thinks that your content can provide more relevant information to the specific audience who are searching for the term on Google,” explains LeaseFetcher‘s Will Craig.
Don’t just dive in with the keywords you think are being searched, though. Do keyword research to find them.
Will says: “You can have short keywords, that are formed of one or two words (called short tail keywords or head terms) or you can have longer keywords formed of an entire phrase (called long tail keywords).”
Riley Adams of Young and the Invested also uses this technique to craft blog content: “When I write a blog post optimized for SEO, I begin by entering my target keyword into the Google search bar. I see the top search results and then review the info boxes included with other questions asked by people who search for this keyword. I write down these questions and make sure the post I write will answer all of those questions in great detail.”
Nothing in the world of SEO is easy–you’ll understand that after reading the opinions in this post.
But what our experts do agree on are these three qualities of a “good” blog post keyword:
“So many people get caught up in trying to optimize/rank for a keyword that has very high search volume and high keyword difficulty, forgetting that long-tail keywords are easier/quicker to rank,” says G2‘s Jordan Wahl.
She says: “That’s where all the initial traffic will come from before ranking well for that primary keyword down the road.”
Long-tail keywords usually have a smaller volume of people searching for them every month. But Brian of Ironpaper recommends to target “low volume long tail keywords with your blog posts,” because they “will not only be easier to rank for quickly but also be the ones that will likely turn into qualified leads.”
Don’t fall into the trap of targeting a single keyword for each blog post, though.
“Using multiple keywords is the most effective way to optimize a blog post for SEO,” says Jennifer Noto of Carolinas IT.
The majority of SEO experts we surveyed target more than one keyword per blog post:
Why? Because search engines use latent semantic indexing (LSI), which essentially means they understand when similar words mean the same thing. Plus, it using similar keywords throughout your page shows it’s relevant to related queries.
Summarizing, here’s David Balogh of BOOM Marketing Hungary explaining how he uses this process to optimize his blog posts for SEO:
“We also try to find 2-3 alternative keywords, which we try to use at least a few times in the article. This improves our chance to rank for these keywords, too. These are usually long-tail keywords and could be anything from synonyms to the main keyword in a phrase. For example, we just wrote an article with the “Instagram marketing” keyword, but we also tried to rank for “Instagram marketing in B2B businesses” with the same article.”
Got your notebook at the ready? Write down this quote shared by Constellix‘s Blair McKee:
“Searcher intent is the driving force behind a search engine query. It could be a problem that needs to be solved, curiosity about a subject, a search for validation.”
But how does this tie-in with blog post optimization?
Marc Andre of Vital Dollar says: “The process of optimizing a blog post starts before you even write the post. Google user’s search intent as a big factor in determining rankings. The algorithm will attempt to know what the user wants to find, and that’s the content that will rank highly.”
“Before you write an article, do a search for your keyword and check out the pages that Google is ranking on the first page. These pages will show you what Google thinks the user is looking for, so you shouldn’t stray too far from those examples. You can also check the word count of the top results and make sure yours is similar, or maybe a little higher.”
Still unsure? Here’s Richard Walsh of Chirp Media Inc explaining the shift from keywords to search intent:
“What we’ve noticed over the last two years, are that keywords aren’t necessarily what is driving the SEO anymore. It’s topic authority and contextual relevance. Google wants you to be producing awesome content and lots of it. If your content from post to post, is contextually relevant it will help build that authority.”
Determining user intent can be done using “tools such as Webtexttool, Clearscope.io and MarketMuse help with topical relevance, by analyzing the pages currently winning the top spots to see which themes recur,” explains Grow Hack Scale‘s David Oragui. “By including these themes and topics in your post, you stand a much better chance of ranking higher.”
Yusuf Young of FunnelBud, on the other hand, recommends to “think about what problem the article is trying to solve and what unique insights you can provide to solving that problem. Consider what people having that problem might search for. Start the article in a way that connects to their current mindset, including the words they might search for.”
*Editor’s note: Pro tip–another easy way for getting a handle on search intent is by tracking which queries are currently driving the most clicks to your website. Grab this free Google Search Console dashboard to quick track and visualize yours.
“One of our favorite blog optimization techniques is to analyze the search engine results page (SERP) for the keyword(s) you’re targeting with your blog,” shares SuperScript Marketing‘s Anna Wolf.
Wolf says the SERPs are “full of information about the types of content Google thinks is worthy of the first page, including length, format, title tag, featured snippets, […] all of which can inform the way you write and organize information in your post.”
Wolf is not the only SEO expert advising to conduct some competitor research.
“Find out what others with a similar domain authority are currently ranking for in your niche, seconds Brent of Debt & Cupcakes. “Once you identify the keywords you have a chance to rank for, read the top 10 ranking posts on google, document their H2s and build a better product in your words, utilizing your own experiences.”
When analyzing the SERPs for your target keywords, ask yourself: “What do they have in their blog post? How long is it?,” explains Jeff Moriarty of Moriarty’s Gem Art. “You want to make sure you make it better than anything that is out there.”
Ben Johnston of Sagefrog Marketing Group thinks that “while the golden rule is to create superior content to your competition, it’s always prudent to study the top results’ structure, by arranging your superior content in the same type of frame, search engines may see it as relevant as the current top ranking results, which can help you dethrone those coveted top spots.”
“The meta title is perhaps the most important element in SEO so make sure it includes the targeted keyword yet enticing enough for humans to click on it,” says Jimmy Chan of Pixelicious.
Organic click-through rate is known to be one of Google’s ranking factors. Since your meta tags are visible before people click your website, it’s a fantastic way to boost this SEO metric (and your ranking positions, as a result).
Jimmy continues: “It’s true when they say that writing great titles is both art and science. Just remember to keep the title under 60 characters or it will be truncated in the SERPs.”
“Pick a content title, that is catchy and can also deliver reasonable traffic,” says Archideators‘ Muhammad Roohan.
But using the advice above, you could also scan the SERPs of the keyword your blog post is targeting and analyze your competitors’ meta title and description. Ask yourself things like:
“Using the snippet editor will allow you to see what your content’s title and meta description will look like in Google search results and edit it to your satisfaction. From the editor, you can add target keywords and optimize for length using Yoast’s suggestions.”
Yaniv Masjedi of Nextiva is another Yoast fan because the tool “will even show you a preview of how your page will appear in search engines – avoiding the embarrassing cut off of content mid-sentence.”
That’s always a win, right?
Don’t fall into the trap of crafting a meta title and description for your blog post before hitting publish, and failing to look at it ever again.
According to Team Building Hero‘s Alex Robinson, a “quick tip to optimize your existing posts for SEO is to A/B test your titles”
He says: “You can track the click-through rate in Google Search Console, and when the CTR increases you should see a corresponding increase in your placement — as long as searchers continue to click you should keep your position.”
Fun fact: I did this for my own blog and increased organic search traffic by more than 50%:
Many bloggers fall into the trap of writing a meta title and using the same text as the title of their blog post.
The two are different because a blog post title can be any length you wish, whereas a meta description only has 60 characters.
That gives you more space to play with, and more opportunity to encourage a click through from social media, a referral website, or your blog’s archive–each of which drives more traffic.
That’s why Marko Saric of How To Make My Blog thinks “the most effective way to optimize that blog post for SEO would be to spend some time thinking of a great headline.”
(The majority of our SEO experts thought the same.)
Marko says this because the headline is “the first thing people see be it on their social media feeds, in their email inbox or on Google’s search results. The headline is the key part that will help them decide if they will click and see your post in the first place.”
It’s no surprise why he recommends to “get creative, spend time on [your headline], come up with 10-20 post headline alternatives and test things before choosing the headline you will go for.”
So, what makes a great headline?
“Choose a great heading that includes a phrase you want to rank for,” explains Reeva Cutting of Cutting Edge Digital–who also advises against “vague or clickbait headings.”
Albacross‘ Oksana Chyketa seconds this strategy, commenting: “One of the most effective SEO tips for optimizing a blog post is using or changing the title to the exact phrase people are searching on Google. And for this, you should do proper keywords research.”
When we asked Matthew Ross of The Slumber Yard for his best blog post optimization tip, his answer was simple:
“One of the most effective optimization strategies I’ve found is to push your most important keywords and phrases near the top of the blog post. For example, if you have a section in the post with the keyword title “Tips To Select The Best Mattress,” it’s better to work that section in near the top of the post rather than the bottom.”
Why? Matthew says he’s “found that Google prioritizes keywords and sections that are higher up on the page since they believe it’s more important information.”
He’s not the only one recommending this SEO technique.
“Insert high volume keywords where necessary but not too much where reading the article seems unnatural,” says Jason Martinez of Redefine Marketing Group.
If you fancy putting this into action, these two marketers are on-hand with their advice:
Including the keyword towards the top of your blog post “will have a huge impact on users and search engines indexing the content provided in your blog and help you list higher on the web,” summarizes Andrew Ruditser of MAXBURST, Inc.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing for Google spiders. A keyword here and an optimized headline there–it’s all written for Google, right?
Growth Hackers‘ Jonathan Aufray advises against starting with SEO, and recommends to “start with content writing” instead. “You want to write for your audience, not for search engines.”
Meghan Hultquist of HQdigital agrees: “Write naturally and intelligently on a topic you know well. Don’t try to manipulate humans or search engine algorithms with your writing.”
It makes sense.
You’re trying to drive people to your website. Why wouldn’t you write content for them, rather than a robotic search engine?
“No matter how hard you try to rank a blog post, if you write it for the search engines and to get it to rank only, it’s likely to never get read or have the effect you want it to have,” says Exprance‘s Nick Leffler.
“Content that’s not written for people but rather written for search engines will likely leave them running for the back button. You aren’t likely to achieve your goal if the content is poorly written and the user hits the back button.”
Chances are, any “guide to SEO” will tell you that long-form is the best type of content to create.
Spoiler alert: It is possible to rank without 3,000 words of content in your blog post. And as BEE Inbound AG’s Adrian Siuda explains, “less is more. Don’t just write content for the sake of it.”
The length of your content should be determined by the search intent. If your audience is asking simple questions, they might not need (or want) to invest 45 minutes into reading your “ultimate guide.”
“Don’t optimize for an optimal length,” says Cassidy Barney of Epic Marketing. “Optimize your piece until it’s complete. A complete piece that gives all of the necessary information without fluff is what both users and search engines love.”
Stone Junction‘s Thomas Roden agrees: “Instead of focusing on meeting a word count, focus on writing content that delivers value to readers.”
He says: “First, consider how the reader will come across your blog post. If it is designed to give information about how to sell widgets using e-mail marketing, for example, then you’ll want to make sure you provide a suitable answer to that question. Then, make sure you include phrases that make the query you’re answering abundantly clear.”
The takeaway here is defined by Simon Rodgers of WebSitePulse: “Don’t say something in 2,000 words if it can be said in 500.”
So, is it ever worth going long-form?
The short answer is “yes”–so long as your audience is willing to invest time into reading what you have to say.
“Understand why you are creating a said piece of content, then ensure that the blog covers every aspect of that specific topic with relation to your why, leaving no room for questions,” says Anish Padmanabhan of Auspin Digital.
Studies have repeatedly shown that long-form content takes the top spots in search.
And when we asked our SEO experts for their results, we found that blog posts over 1,000 words tend to rank best:
Anish thinks this is because “search crawlers are more likely to showcase content that is in-depth and that adds value.”
To put this into practice, “make sure you have the proper length and fully answer or explain the topic you are covering,” says 9Sail‘s Bryan Pattman.
“You want to be the best answer for the user searching and by covering all facets of a topic or question, you will be able to out-rank your competition.”
Since doing this, Cody Slingerland of Jawfish Digital has discovered that “long-form content performs the best in search”–which is why “many of the posts we create (for our own blog and for clients) are over 2,000 words.”
He says: “You should aim to fully cover a topic and this word length can help you accomplish that. With so much content being published every day, you really need to create something that stands out. This also helps to attract social shares and backlinks which are a huge factor when ranking content.”
“Your ability to keep a reader’s attention when they find your article defines whether our content will succeed or fail,” says Pat Ahern of Junto.
This is because “from an SEO perspective, poor readability results in low dwell time and a high bounce rate.”
It’s true. According to a study by SEMrush, dwell time and bounce rate are two of the biggest SEO ranking factors:
“Use the squint test to scan the page to identify design and layout flaws so that you can adjust the layout to make it more readable. Don’t bring your readers to a page with a wall of text, or they will leave just as fast as they came. This will ultimately erode your search visibility as Google measures site interaction as a signal for rankings,” advises Jumpfactor‘s CEO Zamir Javer.
Donna Duncan of B-SeenOnTop, on the other hand, recommends to use “proper grammar and spelling,” and “formatting your content so it is easy to scan and read.”
Here are some readability hacks you can use this make that possible:
Gareth O’Sullivan takes the design element a step further: “After writing the content, I’ll place this in the Hemmingway editor app to make any changes for readability, at the same time, I’ll be using Grammarly to correct any grammatical errors.”
*Editor’s note: SEMrush users can download this free template and track their highest-ranking keywords, ensure all links are still working, and much more.
Did you know that 87% of smartphone users use search engines at least once a day?
It’s no surprise why Smallpdf‘s Hung Nguyen says readability is even more important for mobile users:
“[…] When they pop something into Google, they want an immediate resolution to that particular search query. Once they click on your page, you want to capture their attention by giving them what they want right away. Then, you can work on warming them up to additional content that creates value, enough for them to move onto another page on your platform.”
“Overly elaborative openings may risk having users bounce back to SERPs and click on the next best result – which may signal Google that your content is not sufficient for the targetted users, and may be detrimental for your rankings in the long run.”
Ever use heading tags to style your blog posts?
Along with making content easier to read, heading tags are used by Google spiders to determine what your blog post is talking about–and therefore, rank for.
“If you can find more specific, less competitive keywords related to your target keyword for the article, then ‘pepper’ them throughout your article within sub-headings to break the content up (and make sure the sub-headings are formatted at H2’s),” shares Andy Allen from Hike.
(It’s a tactic we use here at Databox. Simply scroll back through the subheadings; they’re all H2 or H3 tags.)
Steven Boffa of Powered By Search says: “Using a consistent approach for how you structure your data is also very important. This means ensuring all your H1, H2, H3 headers are in the most logical spots surrounded by copy & images which reflect the messaging from those headers.”
We’ve already talked about how on-site factors–such as dwell time and time on page–affect your rankings.
“More ‘time on page’ will result in higher rankings in the search results” says Rob Powell of Rob Powell Biz Blog, which is why he recommends to embed “a YouTube video into your blog post.”
Lauren Walter from Online Optimism agrees: “Consumers today love video, consuming it on a daily basis and preferring it over text to learn about products and services. Not only will videos help deliver your message, but it can increase dwell time on your blog post, which may improve its ranking.”
Let’s dive a little deeper into the formatting of your blog post. Remember how readability was one of our experts’ tips?
“If it’s a long form post, you’ll improve UX by including an image or video every 125-200 words to break up the text and improve visitor dwell time,” explains Jason Thibault of Massive Kontent.
It’s an SEO technique that Tettra‘s Kristen Craft has seen first-hand results from:
“We’ve spent time adding videos to high-performing posts. In many cases, we ranked in the mid-single digit range before adding video and were able to move up multiple slots after adding video. In some cases, we even earned the featured thumbnail snippet at the top of the search results!”
She summarizes by simply saying: “It’s been a great ROI for us, in terms of SEO.”
Search Engine Land recently declared image SEO as being “back from the dead,” with websites experiencing a 37% increase in clicks from Google image search, on average.
But for your blog posts to reach the top spots in the image search, Ana Cvetkovic of BLOOM Digital Marketing thinks you need to create a descriptive alt text for the images you’re uploading.
She says: “This is an SEO method that’s often overlooked. I like to hyphenate a description of the image in the alt text (to aid with user accessibility) and end the description with my keywords for that blog post.”
To do this for your WordPress blog posts, simply hit the Edit button over your images and fill-in this field:
“One of the most effective ways to optimize a blog post for SEO is to add internal links to other blog posts on your site,” says The Advisor Coach‘s James Pollard–who thinks “internal links are important because they connect your content and give search engines an idea of how your site is organized.”
Orbit Media put this to the test with their internal linking experiment. After editing older content to include internal links, rankings increased almost immediately.
However, the number of internal links you should include in a blog post has been a longstanding debate.
According to our survey, 51% of marketers think a blog post should include two to three internal links, and a further 36% typically include three to five:
But regardless of how many you’re sprinkling throughout your blog post, these marketers still agree that it’s an easy optimization trick.
“If you launch a brand new blog post, one of the easiest ways to immediately improve the SEO of that post is to find other relevant posts on your site which you can link to your new post. This is especially effective if the posts you’re adding the links to have external links themselves or are getting traffic,” says Sam Williamson of ATYNTK Movie Streaming.
Oliver Roddy of Catalyst Marketing agrees, and thinks “going back through your old content to map out which pieces should be linking between one another is a great way to create a network of links within your existing site.”
The pillar and cluster model is a content strategy created by HubSpot.
It works by creating blog post acting as an overview of a specific topic, with “clusters” linking from the page that dive into detail with each sub-section.
Take a look at how Charlie from Imaginaire Digital puts this into practice:
“You simply take a piece of pillar content, an example of this would be ‘web design processes’. You can then create individual cluster content that links to it (and vice versa), meaning, a number of blog posts that are about the same topic. So the topic is ‘web design’, but the cluster content follows a different narrative like ‘using photoshop’ or maybe ‘where to find inspiration’.”
It’s not just a range of blog posts you’ll create using this strategy, though.
Gray Group International‘s Alejandra Melara thinks this strategy is a great way to improve your blog’s SEO.
She says: “Choose a pillar page inside your website and several subtopics around it. Write blog posts about each subtopic and link back to the pillar page. The more links you have to a pillar page the more authority that page portrays to Google, therefore, it will help you rank higher.”
External links help give a nod to related content out in the industry,” writes Seventh Scout‘s Vira Vielmann.
“Search engines will recognize you’re sharing other content and that it’s relevant, which is the whole purpose behind search results, to serve up valuable, relevant content to the audience.”
Ollie Smith of ExpertSure agrees, and recommends to “link your blog post to external websites” because “this helps increase your relevancy and authority in your subject area.”
It makes sense: Google wants to direct their users in the way of high-quality content. If other people have linked to your website, you must be sharing something good.
That’s why Jeff Lenney of JeffLenney.com thinks it’s “a good habit to do at least one external link to an authority website in your niche, such as WebMD or Mayo Clinic, for example.”
And We Accelerate Growth‘s Conner King recommends trying “to get links from relevant external links from sites with high domain authority” because they help to “boost authority for your page. Tools like Moz and SEMRush can help you identify good sites to get links from.”
Chris Eckstrum of HouseCall Pro seconds the love for SEMrush, and says the tool “will also make their page more competitive compared to other similar blog posts by using a variety of strong internal links to help build up domain authority across their entire website.”
Have you linked to other authoritative websites in your industry?
“You want to try to perform outreach to people or organizations mentioned in the post and get in touch with influencers who may be interested in the topic at hand so that you increase your chances that other websites will link to it,” shares Jim Milan of Auto Accessories Garage.
It’s a type of influencer marketing bound to skyrocket your blog’s SEO.
Jim isn’t the only SEO expert taking advantage, though. Tim Troiano of SFA Marketing also recommends starting “citing your sources, especially from sites with high authority in the field” to “increase the legitimacy of your blog. Not to mention, some of these websites may link back if they see that you’ve included them in your writing.”
The text you’re adding links to is called anchor text.
Hyfa from Aufait explains how this is important for your SEO: “The more detailed your inbound and outbound anchor text is, the more search engines will learn about your content and know where your post should be indexed.”
There are four main types of anchor text:
It’s a good idea to have a mix of all four. Therefore, Google won’t assume you’re doing any dodgy (or spammy) link building, and land a penalty on your website.
However, Hyfa’s advice also comes with an extra shot: “If you’re doing cross-promotion with another blogger (another great way to improve your SEO), make sure s/he uses anchor text when linking to your content, so it can truly be beneficial.”
“Site-speed is one of the most important factors of a successful SEO campaign as search engines crawl web pages at increasing rates,” says Maple Holistics’ Nate Masterson.
“In fact, page speed is one of the first metrics search engines track for determining your site ranking.”
Plug your blog’s URL into Google PageSpeed Insights to see how long your website takes to load:
It goes without saying that you want to make your blog posts load as quickly as possible.
When we asked INSTAsize‘s Sam Schuler for his best blog SEO tip, he said: “Adding SCHEMA markup, including keyword phrases in Headers, including title-optimized relevant imagery, and creating top-tier, highly informative content.”
SCHEMA markup is a technique website owners can use to convince Google to show more detail in the SERPs.
Jackie Tihanyi of Fisher Unitech thinks using SCHEMA “will help the search engine provide results that display better information for the user who was searching for your focus blog keyword.”
That’s what we’re aiming for, right?
“Before you hit “Publish,” figure out your distribution plan,” explains Jon Barilone of Tripepi Smith.
A distribution plan simply means the schedule you’re using to promote your content.
Jon recommends to ask yourself: “Do you need to draft emails, social media posts, newsletter articles and/or submit to industry websites to get more eyeballs on this content?”
A study by RankXL concluded there’s a slim chance of ranking in Google without backlinks. But you can’t get any backlinks if there’s nobody around to read your content–which is why a content distribution plan is crucial for SEO success.
“Chances are you have some older content that forms the backbone of your site’s traffic,” explains Dennis from core dna.
So, instead of leaving old blog posts to rot, Dennis recommends reinvigorating “posts that have been plateauing […] for a boost in ranking.”
Dennis says you can find old content that needs updating by logging “into your Google Search Console, find out older content that is ranking between #7 to #20, and update the content with additional sections or sub-topics. These sub-topics could be topics that you’re actually ranking but aren’t directly optimizing for.”
Referral Rock‘s Megan Mosley recommends this SEO tip, too.
She says: “It’s easy to add links to existing content to articles as you write them. But a lot of the times, people forget to interlink new content after it’s published. There is still work to be done post-publish!”
“We’ve also found that updating old content regularly has been great for keeping our rankings up.”
But diving back into old content shouldn’t be a to-do because of the internal linking opportunities. According to Srish Agrawal of A1 Future Technologies, “once your article is live and ranking, look it over again to see where you might be able to fill in more information and pick up more longtail keywords in the process.”
Ready to put your feet up and watch the rankings roll in? Your job isn’t finished yet. “The real work starts after you’ve hit the publish button,” says RunRepeat‘s Sadi Khan.
He explains that “it is the number of backlinks that actually pushes a blog post higher in search results,” and “the links will not come unless you actively do something about it.”
So, how do you build strong backlinks to your blog posts? Black hat SEO tactics like paid guest blogging, or writing for Private Blog Networks (PBNs) aren’t successful anymore.
Sadi says: “Other than creating exceptionally good, link-worthy content, you need to do the outreach. Identify prospects like bloggers or writers who might be interested in your content and reach out to them. Promote your content on social media. The more people you reach, the higher the chances of people linking to your post.”
Emma Knightly from Digital Marketing Institute has another technique: “One of the easiest ways to create link-worthy posts is to include interesting statistics or research findings which other people are likely to cite in their own articles.”
Finally, “leverage your relationships, reputation, and quality of your content to get people to share and link to your blog,” writes Josh Paul of Small Marketing Teams.
It seems like after all, it’s relationships with people that improve your blog SEO–not your relationships with Google spiders.
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