Karolina Gawron
September 11, 2019

SEO for Blog Posts: How To Optimize an Article for Organic Traffic

Have you ever created content that felt so good, but it was dead in a month after publication? I know I have.

Many blogs struggle with the same question: how to make sure my article drives fresh traffic month to month? If that’s your case, and you’re wondering how to attract new audience and make the best use of existing—this article is for you.

There may be dozens of reasons why your blog post is not getting any organic traffic. And to start optimizing them, you need to know the root cause.

SEO for blogs and any other types of websites focuses on on-page and off-page factors.

Today we’re discussing on-page. That is content, structure, keywords, page speed, and other things from this category. Well-optimized blog post should be the first step before you jump into backlink strategies, as on-page factors are entirely under your control. If your page sucks—your rankings will too.

Many would argue that without link building activities, it is almost impossible to rank your business on Google. I’d say, without quality links, it can be much harder—but not impossible. Backlinks prove your expertise and lack of them may be the reason why your content is not ranking.

Important:
Robust on-page SEO optimization will help any blogger to get organic traffic and build an audience. It makes much sense to investigate both on-page and off-page factors and not neglect any of them.

In this post, we’ll cover major on-page problems, SEO tips, and mistakes that could hurt your visibility in search engines. And then we will fix them. No previous SEO training required 😉

The great thing is, you don’t need a huge budget (or any, in fact) to make your content SEO-friendly in both text and structure. There are just a few SEO tools you will need to conduct the audit:

  • Google search
  • Google Search Console
  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Surfer (you can sign up for 7-day trial for a dollar if you don’t have an account)

1. Your article is not indexed

Let’s start with the basics. If your content receives zero organic traffic, chances are it hasn’t been crawled by Google bots at all. If your business is new and fresh, those chances are even higher. 

How to identify the problem?

Ask Google. Google Search Console to be specific.

Log into your account, check “URL inspector,” and type your focus keyword. If your page is indexed, you’ll see something like this: 

Indexing URL in GSC

How to fix it

If this is not what you get as an answer to your query, you MUST fix it quickly by requesting indexing in GSC. It may take a few days, so be patient. And hopefully, you’ll see some pretty spike in organic traffic that will please your heart and soul.

If your page is not violating Google’s guidelines in any way, and you haven’t used a `no-index` tag, you should be just fine.

2. Not relevant content for your target keyword

This is a big one. Even if your content is good, it may be difficult to find via Google. Why is that? Because it doesn’t meet the expectations of users.

By investigating SERPs, you may find out they look for something different than your article. They may look for an in-depth guide, while you created a brief description of the subject. They may need an overview, while you served them niched, technical information that is just not practical for your reader. In that case, your chances to earn a new subscriber or a share on social media is low.

How to identify the problem?

See what’s already ranking for your target keyword. The easiest way is to type it in Google and see what results you get. Remember, Google adjusts results based on your location and some other factors, so if you want more reliable data:

Let’s say your business is a marketing agency, and you wrote content about optimizing Facebook ads, with “Facebook ads” as the focus keyword. When you type this keyword to Google, you’ll see this:

SERP for "facebook ad" keyword

This is what the SERP looks like. At least the first five positions which get most of the clicks.

What do we see here? The first three links are Facebook’s links. No surprises here, especially that it’s a branded term. The fourth link is the Buffer’s guide to start advertising on Facebook. Hootsuite’s link is very similar. We can assume that people use that keyword when they want to access the ad panel or they need some introduction to the subject.

That means this keyword will not work well for your article. But there is some other reason next to it—this keyword is very broad and overtaken by domains with high authority and well-developed backlink profile.

How to fix it

You have two options here:

  • Rewrite your content, so it meets user intent
  • Find a new keyword based on what you’re already ranking for and optimize your blog post

Since you’ve already put a lot of effort into your piece, the second option seems much more appealing. There’s probably some great potential hidden there so let’s make use of it!

Step 1: Check what keywords your content ranks for

Go to GSC and choose “Search Results” section on the sidebar. You will immediately see your queries and URLs that get any organic traffic. To find relevant keywords your article ranks for, make “Position” value visible in the table:

choosing data in GSC

Now let’s move to the table. Choose the “Pages” tab and find the URL of your article. You can do this manually or with filters.

SEO results from Surfer in GSC

Once you find the page, click on it and move to the “Queries” tab. You will get a full list of keywords that brought you any traffic from search engines!

Now it’s time to look for keywords with the biggest potential. Those will be the ones which rank the best and record a significant number of impressions—that’s a sign the keyword is quite popular and worth your time.

Step 2: Learn more about your keywords

If you want to get more data on keywords you spotted in GSC, you can visit Google Keyword Planner and find out more about search volume and competition. There’s so much said about using KP that I’m not gonna dwell on this subject here. Here are some lovely guides though:

  1. Google Keyword Planner Guide 2019 by Jeffalytics.pl
  2. Google Keyword Planner by Hotmart

There’s a great probability that you will find some long-tail keywords—that’s great! If you find one with satisfying search volume per month, you are on your way to success.

For the article from the example (about optimizing Facebook ads) it may be: How to optimize Facebook ads.


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Step 3: Make sure your content is crazy good

Before you start working on SEO, make sure your content is outstanding. Significantly better than your competitors. Because getting to the top with yet another piece, similar to many others, is usually tricky (and not possible in most cases). Additionally, outstanding content earns more shares on social media and has a chance to get some invaluable backlinks.

  • Make sure your content is actionable
  • Add some unique value. Share data, business case studies, and useful resources
  • Make the blog post easily scannable with headlines, paragraphs, bolds, and images
  • Tell a story, explain why that matters
  • Invest in graphics
  • Answer all the questions your reader may have with your content or relevant link
  • Offer some unique form to complement the written content
Important:
Better does not always mean longer, but the length is often a side-effect of increasing the overall quality of the article. Content length is also a key ranking factor in search engine optimization. We’ll talk about it in the next section of this guide.

Step 4: Audit your article for the keyword and optimize

By now, you should have a solid basis to optimize your piece for a relevant phrase. Let’s look for some quick wins for your content.

Go to Surfer’s Keyword Analyzer, type your keyword, and choose the location where you want to rank.

Keyword Analyzer input field

Now type your URL and enter the Audit. For this example, I chose an article that is ranking on 37th position for my keyword in the UK:

SEO Audit in Surfer

The Audit is basically an Action Plan for your page. It analyzes the top five pages (you can customize them)  from SERP and gives you instant recommendations on how to bump your ranking.

This is a part of the Audit for our keyword:

Audit results with many useful SEO tips for a blogger

If you’d like to see exactly what data you get with this feature, here’s the exported Audit for this page. Once you create one for your keyword, you can freely share it with the outside world with a link.

By now, you should know what your target keyword is. Chances are you’ve been targeting the right one from the beginning if you did your SEO homework.

I also introduced you to the idea of Surfer’s Audit, which outlines action points for your content. Now we’ll dive deeper into your on-page SEO. I’ll walk you through critical factors that may make or break content, tell you how to identify potential problems, and how to fix them right away.

3. Content length is too skimpy

I like to think that an article should be just as long as it needs to answer the question fully. This approach lets you focus on quality which side-effects in a long, in-depth piece of writing.

You may have encountered “perfect blog post length” somewhere on the web. Different sources say it’s somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 words. But following averages without segmenting those data won’t do much.

Important:
The “perfect length” depends on the keyword, location, business type, user intent, and much more. Blogging for SEO and audience is not about the number of words.

How to identify a problem?

To find out what’s the preferred content length in Google’s (and so in users’) eyes, look what’s happening in SERP for your keyword.

You can make the analysis manually or with Keyword Analyzer in Surfer. If you want to go manually, it will take a bit longer, but it’s still effective if you analyze just one page.

Manual analysis:

  1. Type your keyword in Google search
  2. Find articles with similar user intent and exclude other content types from analysis (like stores or YouTube)
  3. Copy-paste content to Google docs or some other editor and check their length. You may want to include not only the article body but also a comment section, for example. It’s still content in Google’s eyes!
  4. Count the average.

If your piece is way shorter, you should take action.

Analysis with Surfer:

Go to Keyword Analyzer and type your keyword just as we did before. You’ll see the central chart view. The graph shows the number of words by default based on the position in SERP. To spot some useful trends, you can turn averages on. I did that for the example below, setting averages per five results:

Graph presenting on of many on-page SEO factors: content length

Some pages that may skew your results (like Wikipedia). You can exclude them from the graph with the eye icon:

Excluding URL from analysis in Surfer

For my keyword “content audit criteria” for the UK, there are mostly articles, so I get relevant data on their word count. If your blog post is below those numbers from top positions, it’s time to sit down and write!

How to fix it

Add some (SEO-friendly) content. Simple as that. Just please, please don’t add anything random that will not bring value to a reader, and take proper care of the overall structure. Otherwise, you undermine your expertise and annoy your audience. Try one of those approaches instead:

  1. Investigate your organic competition. What do they write about what you haven’t included in your content yet?
  2. Add more examples and data to prove your point.
  3. Add resources section at the end of your article.
  4. Point out key insights from the article at the beginning.
  5. Reach out to your client/expert and ask for a quote on the subject.

That is how you add quality and quantity to your article without jibber-jabber no one cares about!

4. Your blog post lacks important words and phrases

Using words and phrases semantically close to your main keyword says a lot about your content. For both Google and your visitor. Right words assure readers they found what they looked for. They may want to scan your blog post to find key phrases in the title, paragraphs, and headings.

It’s your job to find and include important words and use them to showcase your expertise. If you didn’t, or you used some key term just once while your competitors used it thirty times, it may have a negative impact on your rankings.

How to identify the problem?

What you need is a list of terms and their frequency. Once again, you’ll need to analyze organic competitors to find out what words are the most powerful for your keyword. You may do that manually, but it’s a prone-to-error task.

Instead, go to the Audit in Surfer and check the True Density tab.

True Density tab inside the SEO Audit

For this audited page, there are 188 terms that require attention. It’s challenging to look into every single one of them, but the effort is worth it.

How to fix it

The easiest way to optimize content based on True Density is to use Content Editor—it gives a blogger lots of tips to create an SEO-optimized post without damaging the overall quality. To start, type your keyword and choose a location.

Input field in Content Editor

Surfer will analyze the top ten pages from the SERP and autogenerate some guidelines for the content (including important phrases and True Density).

Luckily, we have mostly articles here so we can include them all in the analysis. Save changes and look below. Under the content length, a number of paragraphs, etc., there’s a section you need to fix your content.

You can add terms if you want or exclude some of the suggested ones. Next, close the customization panel — you can see an editor with a sidebar that includes previously created guidelines. Copy-paste your article and see how it performs!

Surfer automatically checks the number of times a phrase is used in your text. You’ll instantly get a review of your optimization level like this:

Tips for a blogger on word usage

You can add those phrases and more content using Content Editor, so you don’t have to copy-paste your piece back and forth. No matter if you add them to the title, headings, or alt images—Surfer will spot them. Make sure to turn as many of them green!

5. Page speed needs improvement

Top ranking blogs for competitive keywords have this in common: they all load quickly. They are designed to be quick and responsive as it is a critical factor for high rankings.

Fast loading times improve user experience and are a positive signal for Google that you provide your readers with quality content. If you care about conversions and low bounce rates, page speed should matter to your website and articles. Especially if you use images or other visualizations without optimizing them, your loading times may suck. One big image may screw your loading time a lot!

How to identify the problem?

Luckily, if that’s your case, Google is kind enough to share with you that information. To get started, you need PageSpeed Insight tool. It’s free and all you have to do is type your website URL. Let’s see how Surfer’s profile on G2 performs in terms of speed… (Completely random page, I swear)

PageSpeed Insight tool improves SEO for bloggers

Google gives you a different score for mobile and desktop. Investigate both. Different problems may occur on different devices.

59 is not an astonishing result. 90 and more—that’s what you should aim for if you want to rank for some juicy keywords. 

How to fix it?

First, focus on items that may have the most significant impact in Google’s eyes. Working on them may increase your score significantly. 

If you’re not a web developer, you may need a hand from them to fix it. Here are some priorities for the G2 page:

Tips from PageSpeed Insight

Follow recommendations from Google, and you should be fine.

Important:
Keep small sizes of every single image on your blog. It is usually the main cause of damaged loading times. There are multiple tools and WordPress plugins that will help you do that like Smush (for WP) or Optimizilla—free online tool.

You may also consider modern file formats like WebP, which is made to create smaller in size and richer in detail images.

6. Not optimized meta tags

Optimizing meta title and meta descriptions are a basis of SEO. And yet, it happens that they are neglected. They are either too long or too short. Not really encouraging. Boring. Without relevant keyword in it. Or not-existing.

I’m not gonna dwell on that. You know the idea! 

How to identify the problem?

Google hates when you use sentences and phrases that sound robotic. Your meta must be humane and should reflect the user’s needs and intent. If your title and description feel awkward, or spammy, maybe it’s time to rephrase.

Go to your content management system and check your meta! 

How to fix it?

Here’s a quick checklist to help you deal with this one:

Title:

  1. Keep it between 50 and 65 characters long
  2. Include a keyword or partial keywords if more suitable
  3. Make sure it’s valuable and reflects the content on the page
  4. Avoid any spammy methods like keyword stuffing
  5. If appropriate, use special signs, separators, emojis to stand out in the SERP

Description:

  1. Make it max. 158-characters long 
  2. Include a keyword or partial keywords if more suitable
  3. Use some parts of the content from the page that summarizes it well
  4. Again, avoid any spammy methods
  5. Use active voice and verbs like “Learn” or “Find out”

Done? Great. Let’s move on to the next one!

7. Keyword density is off

We’ve already discussed using the right phrases inside your content. Now It’s time for your primary keyword density along with partial keywords.

Despite what many tools, websites, or even SEO blogs would suggest, there’s no ideal density for your keywords. If you think that 3% is your goal, then—sorry—that’s not true. And believing that may hurt your business and result in lower rankings. Using key phrases in your content matters and it is possible to get to the sweet spot,

How to identify the problem?

If you haven’t manually checked SERP for your keyword, chances are your % is off; this or that way. To find out if that’s the case, once again we will use Keyword Analyzer.

This time I’ll use a long-tail keyword: “vegan diet plan,” For phrases like this, the number of exact keywords in the body is usually low as people type them in hundreds of different configurations. But they still can get you loads of traffic. Long-tail keywords are actually much better for SEO in blogging!

According to Ubersuggest—one of the free tools for keyword research—this keyword gets 2,900 searches in the UK. Not bad at all!

Here’s the usage of the exact phrase in body and title of the page:

usage of the focus keyword "vegan diet plan"

Doesn’t seem like a relevant factor when it comes to SEO and position in SERP. What if we focus on partial keywords instead? 

usage of partial keywords for "vegan diet plan" blog post

As you see, I turned on averages per three pages. Partial keyword density in the title for top pages is around 30%, while in the body is 4%. If you want to see immediately how your page is doing, you can make your values visible on the chart (horizontal lines):

"Show on chart" feature in Surfer

To put that in numbers, the exact keyword “vegan diet plan” appears 0-1 times in the text body, while partials:

  • vegan – 34 times in top3
  • diet – 11 times 
  • plan – 12 times

That’s interesting! Surfer will show you those numbers too, so you don’t have to count them manually.

SEO ranking factor in Surfer: Count of partial keywords

Now that you know how to uncover densities and counts of a keyword and partials, you can do it all by yourself. Focus on those three tips:

  1. Check density and count of your primary keyword in body, meta tags, headings, and image alts
  2. Check density and count of all partials
  3. Check density and count for every single partial

You will spot instantly how your article performs against your organic competitors. 

How to fix it?

You may discover that keyword density is not that important for SEO, or that one partial is much more important than the other. Add those keywords based on what’s working for top performers.

Important:
If adding keywords or partials will make your content unnatural in any way, it’s better to skip it. User experience always comes first, even in so-called SEO copywriting.

8. Weak or not consistent internal linking

Linking to other pages inside blog posts is valuable for SEO and UX. They navigate users and bots through your page so they find relevant information. Proper internal linking will help them find new content and keep making them come back to your blog and maybe, one day, buy from your business.

You may also improve the authority of your pages even before they get any external backlinks. By linking from articles that already rank on page one, you may give a massive boost to your new piece.

How to identify the problem?

You need to investigate three things here:

  1. How many internal links your article has? If the answer is a big, fat zero, you should change it right away.
  2. Which anchors are used? Good anchors may, but doesn’t have to, include a keyword you target. They should be descriptive and explain what a user can expect on the other side. Use similar phrases and synonyms. That will improve your SEO. 
  3. In what context links appears? Links shouldn’t be placed somewhere entirely out of the blue. When users read an article they find interesting they are willing to click through to other ones. You want to add links that will help your users, not trick them in any way.

All in all—internal links should be relevant, well-described, and useful for the reader.

How to fix it?

If you discover your article is not linked anywhere, the first thing you should do is to find relevant pages that could benefit from adding the link. If you have a consistent content marketing strategy for SEO, you probably created some main topics around which you produce your content. Articles from the same category might be useful to start working on internal links.

Now, scan your blog posts, and find a section where the article you’re optimizing will be useful to your users. You may need to rephrase a sentence or add some copy if the link doesn’t fit naturally. Sometimes you may even need to add a whole section—but as long as it enriches the content in a meaningful way, it’s fine, and it may really boost your SEO. You can also use an image as a link with some nice alt.

Use anchor texts that will be clear and descriptive. Your users should have a good understanding of what’s behind the anchor! Here are some anchor text examples you should avoid in internal (and external) linking:

  • Words like “here,” “there,” or “click”
  • Naked URLs—no anchor text is bad anchor text
  • Not relevant or misleading in any way (“Hey, I thought it’s an article about backlinks! Why do I see services page?” *closing tab with your website*)

9. Blog post is not relevant to your website in general

This is a “yes or no” question. You may have created a great article with user-friendly structure, and great design but… if the topic is not semantically close to the rest of your domain, you’ll have a difficult time ranking it. You don’t have authority in the niche, and you don’t have relevant internal links and backlinks—that’s a big problem for any business.

It is tempting to write about different things on a blog, but it’s better to focus on one expertise per domain. If you have some things you feel like publishing, there are content aggregators like Medium, LinkedIn, or other social media that allows you to write on different subjects more freely.

Think about it like this: your audience comes to your website for a specific reason. If they signed up to your newsletter or follow you on Twitter—they probably want to hear about a given subject. If you don’t fulfill that need, they may leave you.

How to identify the problem?

You’ve read the titles of all other blog posts and pages on your website, and this very article just doesn’t feel like it belongs? Yup, you have this problem. It’s especially painful for business blogs.

How to fix it?

Depending on your case, you can solve it three ways

  1. Move your content to LinkedIn or Medium—your article is awesome, and many people could benefit from it. So keep it, but share your expertise on a different platform or social media. It has better chances to get organic traffic there. 
  2. Remove the content entirely—if your piece doesn’t get any audience or backlinks long-term, you will probably have to delete it anyway. Think why you published it in the first place? Rethinking your content strategy will help you avoid such bias in the future.
  3. Accept this state and start building more content on the subject—your blog post is not getting any traffic now. But if you commit to building authority in this niche, make your articles SEO-friendly chances are it will rank high in the future.

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To-do checklist for on-page blog SEO

Time needed: 1 hour and 30 minutes.

How to optimize blog posts for SEO?

  1. Make sure that your post is indexed.

    If your content receives zero organic traffic, chances are it hasn’t been crawled by Google bots at all. Add your page in Google Search Console.

  2. Create relevant content for your target keyword.

    Even if your content is good, it may be difficult to find via Google. Why is that? Because it doesn’t meet the expectations of users. Adjust your content so it meets user intent for this target phrase.

  3. Check the optimal content length.

    There’s no one-size-fits-all content length. Check what content length is popular among top performers for YOUR keyword instead of following so-called good practices.

  4. Use semantic-close words to make your content more comprehensive.

    Using words and phrases semantically close to your main keyword says a lot about your content. For both Google and your visitor. Use common and popular phrases in your content, too.

  5. Speed up your site.

    Top ranking blogs for competitive keywords have this in common: they all load quickly. They are designed to be quick and responsive as it is a critical factor for high rankings. Make sure your article performs spotlessly.

  6. Optimize title and meta description.

    Optimizing meta title and meta descriptions are a basis of SEO. And yet, it happens that they are neglected. Optimize your tags so they are captivating and impossible to miss.

  7. Check the optimal density of primary keyword.

    Despite what many tools, websites, or even SEO blogs would suggest, there’s no ideal density for your keywords. If you think that 3% is your goal, then—sorry—that’s not true. Check density of target keyword and partials and avoid over- or underoptimization.

  8. Do internal linking.

    Linking to other pages inside blog posts is valuable for SEO and UX. Add relevant internal links in the right context, with descriptive anchor text.

  9. Make sure that your blog post is relevant to your website in general

    If the topic is not semantically close to the rest of your domain, you’ll have a difficult time ranking it. Make sure that’s not your case.

To sum up

If you spotted any of the above problems and fixed them right now, give yourself a few days and see how those changes influenced your rankings. SEO copywriting doesn’t have to be difficult, right?

And most importantly—make sure you don’t make the same mistakes again. It’s a waste of your time and valuable traffic that could end up in new business and audience, who can’t wait to subscribe to your blog.

Hope those SEO blog tips will enhance your rankings. Good luck!

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