Small business search engine optimization (SEO) can be frustrating and expensive. How do you stand out from competitors with big advertising budgets? Even if you hire a pricey SEO expert, what are your chances of appearing on the first pages of search results?
You may want to invest in SEO for your small business because two trends are working in your favor right now.
Customers are actively seeking opportunities to support neighborhood small businesses. Local SEO helps you capitalize on this sentiment.
Consumers are getting increasingly specific in their searches. Use long tail keywords to reach these customers who are more likely to buy from you.
You’re out of town and you’re hungry. You’re in the mood for Italian, so you search for “pizza near me” on your smartphone. Google returns a map of pizzerias complete with distance from your location, rating, and links to find out more and get directions for each one. That’s local SEO in action.
It’s free, easy to set up, and you only have to do it once. Open Google My Business and follow the directions. (You will need a free Google account.) Give Google a day or two to index the information et vIola! Your small business will start showing up in local searches.
Long Tail Keywords
Your other opportunity is to exploit the power of long tail keywords in all your content. In a nutshell, these are descriptive phrases that searchers use to get more precise results. (If you’re curious and want to learn more, see my blog about SEO in which I explained long tail keywords.)
Most businesses rely on keywords to generate search results using one or two words, not long phrases. Competition for these short keywords is often intense and the odds of you showing up in search engine results are minuscule. You may be more successful using longer phrases–long tail keywords. Competition is lower and even better, you’ll be reaching an audience that has pre-qualified itself with a specific search.
Should I Bother With SEO for my Small Business?
It never hurts to do what you can to raise your search engine rankings, especially if just a few simple steps will improve your small business’ SEO. But the honest answer is your marketing strategy should drive the amount of effort you spend on it. Some things to consider:
How do your customers find you now?
Do you want to get more business from the internet?
Is your online reputation important for your business?
Do you depend on social media to get the word out?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then maybe you should invest in SEO for your business. Confused? Have questions? Give me a call and let’s talk it over.
I’ve invited Shawn Greene, noted author and speaker, to share her step-by-step approach to creating content using sticky notes. She’s generously let me repost her original blog here. While Shawn is known for sales training and instructional design, her method works for almost any content you need to create. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
You need a bunch of Post-its and something to write with.
It helps to use just one size and one color Post-it. However, that’s not vital — use what you have as long as they are large enough to write on.
However, do not plan to use different colors or sizes to organize, prioritize, and so on because that will be counter-productive
Step 1 – Brainstorm
Start thinking and put those thoughts onto Post-its. This should include any thoughts about your objectives or goals even if you think those are already set.
Important! Put just one thing on one Post-it. One idea. One thought. One sub-point. One sub-sub-point. One concern. One way-off-topic. One whatever. I repeat: one thing per Post-it.
As You Brainstorm
Do not analyze. Do not consider. Do not research. Do not check spelling. Do not put Post-its up on a white board as you brainstorm. Do not place each one on a white board and then write on it. Do not organize them. Do not put certain thoughts on one color Post-it and others on a different color. Do not discard thoughts that don’t fit the objective or because they won’t fly.
Just dump all of those thoughts, ideas, concerns, resources, questions, people, etc. onto Post-its.
Keep going until you have a pile of Post-its and come to a lull. Don’t force a continued brainstorm if you feel stuck because the next step will unstick you. Same goes if you don’t feel you have “enough” Post-its.
Find a space that is wide open and smooth (so the Post-its will stick and stay). A clean white board, conference table, window, or door often work well.
You can also create a space by taping flipchart paper on walls, windows or doors, or even white boards. This has the added bonus of being easily transported later.
Step 2 – Lay Out the Post-its and Group Them
Complete this step standing up, unless you’re physically unable to do so, because physical movement is part of what makes the Post-it method work so well. (Do not forego standing because you’re tired or because there is little room. Park the chairs in the hall if you have to.)
Place the Post-its onto the open space. Start by placing them randomly. As you add more Post-its some form of grouping will become apparent, often by topic.
Move Post-its into those now-apparent groups but keep the grouping fairly loose until you have placed all of the Post-its. Do not try to decide if the grouping is “correct.” Feel free to use different kinds of groups, too, don’t try to make them consistent.
The exception to the above are any Post-its covering your objectives or goals. Group and place those somewhere that is in view but separate from the rest.
Throughout this step: physically step back so you can see the whole. Move stuff around as needed.
You may find some Post-its created during the brainstorm do not have a topic or category to which they belong. Add those topics and categories now.
Move Post-its around as needed. Put any that don’t fit off to one side. Put any Post-its covering an introduction or close off to one side, too.
The One Thought Per Post-it No Longer Applies
As you move the Post-its around, other thoughts, ideas and concerns will come to mind. Sometimes it’s best to add notes to existing Post-its, sometimes adding new Post-its is best because you can move them around. Don’t try to figure this out in advance and don’t worry if your approach here is inconsistent. You will organize in the next step.
When the Post-its Do Not Fit the Objectives and Goals
No matter how well considered the objectives and goals were, you may find the brainstormed Post-its don’t quite fit. This occurs in two situations:
(1) The most common situation is the original objectives/goals weren’t quite right.
If the bulk of the content Post-its make sense, pull the misfit objectives down so they don’t distract you. Circle back to these in Step 6 (they often just need edits).
(2) The brainstormed Post-its are not right.
It happens! If you’re absolutely sure the objectives/goals are right, take a break — walk away for a few minutes.
When you come back, take the first set of Post-its down and brainstorm again. (You may want to hold onto the first set because they may apply for other objectives/goals.)
Step 3 – Organize, Including Flow
Once you have the Post-its laid out in rough groups, clean up the groupings and make them consistent, adding or removing Post-its as needed.
Now organize the groups into a flow, experimenting with various versions. Don’t let yourself get stuck looking for the perfect flow. Settle on one that seems okay — you will adjust things later as you develop the program, talk, reference, etc.
Throughout this process – physically step back so you can see the whole. As needed: deal with duplicates, move stuff around, remove things…step back again and repeat as needed.
As you organize, you may find some Post-its no longer seem to fit or no longer seem important. Don’t toss these into recycling yet, put them to one side.
You may also find new thoughts come to mind. Add Post-its, or add notes to existing ones.
Step 4 – Add the Introduction and Close
You may have put aside Post-its with content for the opening/introduction, and close. Add these in the right places.
It’s also quite common to have an outline that is missing an opening/introduction and close. If these are missing, don’t fill them in at this time. Instead, add one Post-it to hold a spot for the opening. and another to hold a spot for the close. You’ll fill these in after you develop the rest of the content.
Step 5 – Prioritize as Needed
No matter what we’re using the Post-it method for, we almost always have more possible content than we’ll be able to use. It’s time to identify priorities and there are two ways to do this:
Add a “P” to priority topics and individual Post-its. Focus on these as you develop the content. Add in the rest only as time and space allow.
Bravely remove anything that is not a priority. (Keep these in case you want to add the content or use it separately.)
Step 6 – Revise Objectives/Goals, if Needed
As noted, it’s common to find the original objectives or goals don’t completely sync with the brainstormed content. They often just need slight edits, for example:
The original objective was “understand new work flow.” The content focused on using the new work flow, so the objective is now “understand and apply the new work flow.”
The original objective was “increase client retention.” The content focused on setting appropriate expectations and agreements, so the objective is now “setting shared expectations.”
Step 7 – Transfer if Needed
We often need to transfer the laid-out Post-its or their content onto something. Common options:
Type them up in outline form.
Stick the Post-its onto paper. Flipchart-size paper is perfect but legal and letter-size work, too. Layer the Post-its like shingles so they take up less room.
Take snapshots. Make sure you can read what’s on the Post-its. If you have to take several snapshots, number them so you have the correct order.
That covers the Post-it method, except to address what to do with all those nifty used stickies: recycle them, of course.
Not Sponsored by Post-its
Post-it is a registered trademark of the 3M company. Though there are many imitators, I have to say official Post-its work the best.
About Shawn Greene
Shawn’s sales expertise is founded in direct experience in selling services — including but not limited to banking. Shawn continues to develop business for Savage and Greene, ensuring our training equips reps to handle today’s challenges.
When Shawn was a sales rep for a training company, she learned her penchant for asking questions, talent as an explainer and writing skills could be combined in “instructional design.” She’s been a professional designer since 1993.
Shawn lives with her husband and monster kitty. For fun, she and her husband play golf, kick back and watch NASCAR, and try to resist the kitty’s attempts to persuade them it’s already dinnertime.
I’ve noticed some interesting content trends in 2021. Some are driven by the economic uncertainties businesses are facing, However, one thing stands out: good writing gets the reader’s attention.
More Focus on the Bottom of the Content Funnel
Instead of casting a wide content net to attract any lead, some of my clients are only looking for qualified prospects. It’s a smart tactic that saves them time and money–and they realize revenue more quickly. They use content rich in descriptions of features, benefits and the details someone would want to know as they research alternatives.
My thought: smart. It’s an approach that lends itself to re-purposing evergreen content, especially when you have a solid understanding of your audience.
Improving the Content Experience
One of my pet peeves is searching for something on my smartphone and then seeing the content blocked by all manner of interruptions. Pop-ups request my email address every time I return to a landing page. Videos start playing, eating up limited public bandwidth. Or I see two short lines of text then have to click “read more,” only to have to wade through even more pop-ups and panels. When I finally get to the content, it’s long-winded and takes forever to get to the point–if it ever does.
Designers and copywriters are starting to pay attention. One of the most positive content trends I’ve noticed in 2021 is these annoying interruptions are less common. Savvy copywriters are driving users to a product or service landing page for in-depth interactions. Content is segmented and organized so it’s easy to read with less intrusive calls to action.
My thought: long overdue.
More Focus on Shorter Pieces of High-Quality Content
Businesses are paying more attention to the customer journey. They’re delivering relevant content in shorter bites (though you can still find plenty of Top 10 Lists and Ultimate Guides). Writing is tighter; headers are less bombastic. Content is tightly focused on a single topic.
My thought: I’m all for anything that encourages good content. WIth apologies to fans of James Michener, we need more Earnest Hemingway–at least on websites.
The Most Unsurprising Content Trend for 2021: SEO Is Still Important
This 2021 content trend would have ranked on any list once Google launched. Big businesses have the budget clout to pay for the obvious keywords. Savvy smaller and niche businesses have learned how to leverage long tail keywords (descriptive phrases) to beat out the behemoths they compete against.
My thought: the search phrase “near me” is a blessing for small businesses because it helps local customers find you. Just make sure you complete your Google Business profile so the search engines can include you in local results.
How Can I Help?
Need some help writing a blog? Don’t know whether you should worry about SEO? Just want to bounce some ideas around? Drop me a line or give me a call; I’d be happy to help.
And here we are, the culmination of all your hard work: writing and publishing.
Let the Fun Begin
Even with all the preparations you’ve made, writing can still seem daunting. Here’s a pro writer’s tip: just get words down. Follow the outline you created. Your goal is to complete the first draft of your blog not write The Great American Novel.
Pro Writer’s Tip
Do. Not. Edit.
Let me repeat: Do. Not. Edit.
Too many writers spend so much time polishing their first paragraph that they never get the rest of the blog written.
So, again: Do. Not. Edit. That’s the next step. First things first: complete your draft, no matter how rough.
Walk away. Take a break. Do something else. Editing requires a very different mindset. I know few people (OK, nobody. Certainly not me.) who can easily shift from writing to effective quickly.
A Process for Editing
Editing is the hardest part of writing. Here’s the process I follow. Editing takes me several passes; please don’t feel you have to tackle everything in one go.
Structure. Are the paragraphs in the right order? Do your thoughts flow logically from beginning to end? Are you taking any detours that might confuse your target audience?
Paragraphs. Does each paragraph capture a discrete thought? Have you opened each paragraph with an interesting sentence? Does the last sentence and lead the reader on to the next paragraph?
Sentences. Unless you’re writing for academia, tighten up your sentences. Ruthlessly remove extraneous words. Make your point in as few words as you can. Vary sentence lengths for interest. Use active voice. Edit like a surgeon with a finely honed scalpel.
Words. Find the best word possible. Add color and pop. Are you using jargon? If so, will your readers understand it? If not, find a better way to say it. Make friends with the thesaurus.
SEO. Have you used your keywords effectively? Expert opinions vary, but I recommend using your main or focus keyword in:
The title of your blog
In at least one subheading
At least twice in the body of your text
I don’t usually do all my editing in one sitting. Very often I’ll tackle the overall structure and paragraphs, but will come back at least once more for the rest. I love wrangling the words, getting just the right phrase, but I need to police myself to be sure I don’t get lost in the dictionary. There is such a thing as good enough.
What’s the difference between editing and proofreading? Editing starts with a first draft and polishes content until it sparkles. Proofreading follows editing. It eliminates misspellings, grammatical and punctuation errors, inconsistencies, formatting errors, and other basic mistakes .
Always. Proofread. Your. Copy.
If you’re not good at catching your own errors (I’m not), get a friend or colleague to proofread for you. At this point, after all this work, it would be embarrassing to undermine yourself with small errors that detract from your expertise and authority.
Some things to look for:
Correct spelling for names.
Correct titles, organization names, addresses, phone numbers, and URLs.
All quotes have attributions. (You’ve given the source where you found the quote.)
All images have captions and are attributed to their sources including yourself, if you are using one of your own pictures. (Note on the uncaptioned photo above: I used a free stock photo site and they did not give attribution to this picture.)
Punctuation is correct.
Spelling and grammar are correct.
Publishing is the easy part. Copy your blog into your website blog posting tool or content manager. Format headers, add images, insert relevant links, and be sure to proofread here, too. Save your work, set a publication date, and pat yourself on the back.
One more thing: let the world know you’ve just written something.
Scheduling Social Media Posts
If SEO is important, then this is your chance to let the interwebs know you’ve written something. Digital marketer Riley Haas says there are three steps to posting something on social media:
Tell the internet.
Tell the internet you’ve told the internet.
Remind the internet that you told the internet you told the internet.
Here’s a schedule you can follow:
Within 1-2 days of posting your blog, post to whatever social media media accounts you use for your business. Include a link to your blog. Use an image that you use in your blog, too.
Two to three days later, tell the internet you’ve told the internet.
About five days after your first social post, remind the internet. (“In case you missed it, here’s a link to my latest blog post on….”)
If you actively use LinkedIn, don’t forget to post your blog there as an article. Do this about two weeks after you’ve posted it to your blog for maximum effectiveness. And don’t forget to let LinkedIn know you’ve published the article.
Tools I Use
When it comes to proofreading, ’m in love with the AP Style Guide. The online version is kept up-to-the-minute current; useful when you’re writing about the topic du jour.
No tool will catch everything, and they all miss the finer nuances of writing. Don’t let an app be the boss of you. Sometimes writers break the rules. Just break the rules with purpose, not because of a lack of attention to detail.
Tips for Success
When editing, you’ll reach the point of diminishing returns and spend a lot of time on something that isn’t going to get much better. It’s a fine line, but pay attention to where your time is going. Get the problems fixed, yes, but don’t spin your wheels.
If you plan to do a lot of writing, you may want to create a content tracker so you know what was published where, and how you got the word out. Blog posts can become longer articles, or topics for speeches or white papers. Tracking how your content evolved can save a lot of time and confusion later on.
When you’re editing, read out loud to yourself. A paragraph that seems fine on the screen may sound awkward or senseless when spoken.
If remembering to post to social media seems as daunting to you as it does to me, use a social media publisher like Edgar, Hootsuite, or Buffer. You can create all your posts at the same time, schedule them, and forget about it.
Still Need Help?
Thanks for sticking with me. It’s been a long ride. If you’re still feeling stuck, don’t panic. If you need some inspiration and maybe a little help getting unstuck, schedule some time to talk with me. If nothing else, we can commiserate.
Part 4 covered research and gathering expert information.
Betcha thought it was finally time to start writing.
You’re never going to attract readers if you don’t give them an enticing headline. And you’re not going to grow your business without a clear (and non-spammy) call to action.
Do I Really Need a Great Headline and a Persuasive Call To Action?
It depends. What are your blogging goals?
If you’re writing for yourself, then no. People write blogs all the time and don’t worry about this stuff. Say you’re capturing vacation details for friends and family. They’ll read your blog anyway; no need to worry about headlines or calls to action.
But if your goal is to attract readers who become customers, then yes, you need a headline and a call to action that get the results you want.
How To Write an Eye-Catching Headline
Here’s where the experts will drive you crazy. I’m going to give you the best advice I can, at the time this blog is published. However,
SEO evolves and trends change. What makes a good headline today may not work next month.
You’re a human being writing for other humans. Don’t let your desire for strong SEO results get in the way of good writing.
Incorporate your target keyword or keyword phrase.
The closer to the beginning of your headline you can place it, the better for both human readers and SEO.
Promise to address a problem, explain a benefit, or offer a feature.
Remember all that research you did in the planning step? Now’s the time to use that information. Build it into your headline with phrases like “How to…” “Three Challenges Facing…”, “Worried About….”, “Why You Need….”.
Write to be read on any device.
Some experts will tell you blog headlines should be about six words long for legibility on mobile devices. Others insist they need to be at least 10 for SEO. How to decide: where will your ideal reader be viewing your content?
Create a list of 10-20 candidate headlines to start. Play with the sequence of words, rearrange them to see if that adds punch. Look for a combination of powerful, emotional, and uncommon words.
Engage Readers With a Call to Action
A call to action (CTA) is what you want your reader to do once they’ve finished your blog:
Download a freebie like a white paper, a checklist, or a template they can use
Sign up for your newsletter, a webinar, or an event where you’ll be showcased
Follow you on social media
This is an ideal opportunity to encourage readers to build a relationship with you.
I Hate Calls to Action!
I get that; some people worry about sounding too “sales-y.” But hang on a sec. Remember you’re promising to solve a problem for a customer. Why lead them this far, then drop them like a hot bowl of ramen right out of the microwave?
If you want to build a relationship with your reader, this is where you nudge them to the next step in solving their problem. You don’t have to be all “call me now!!!!” Use a gentle approach to let the reader know it’s up to them: they can choose to follow your CTA to not. If they like what you’re saying, they will continue the conversation with you; the decision is in their hands. It’s as simple as that.
Call to Action Done? You’re Almost Ready to Write
Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. The hardest part is done.
Now that you have an opening, a closing, and your keywords, outline the major points you want to make. As you’re writing, identify where you want to add:
Links to other websites
At least one link to another page in your website
Links to other interesting sources of information like research, videos, or data sources.
Images and video
In the next post, we’ll talk about actually writing, editing, and publishing your baby, the best blog post in the world.
Use CoSchedule’s free headline analyzer to help you select the best headline. (You want a score of 70 or higher.) While I generally like CoSchedule, it can lead you to sound like clickbait. Remember, this is just a tool. It’s not perfect and a good score won’t guarantee success.
Another great analyzer is the American Marketing Institute’s Emotional Marketing Value analyzer. In this case, you’ll want to hit 30-40% emotional value if you can.
Tips for Success
Take your time writing headlines. Search algorithms aside, you’re writing for busy people. You have just a few seconds to grab their attention. It’s worth sleeping on an idea and worrying about getting the wording just right.
Don’t be afraid to be bold, but know there’s a fine line between bold and off-putting. Follow your gut on this one: balance your comfort level against what will get attention.
At the risk of repeating myself one more time, don’t miss this opportunity to include a call to action. Seriously. You went to all this work, why blow the payoff? (You’d be surprised how many people get this far and forget this last step.)
In this blog, one of a series on writing a blog, I’ll explain why and how to research content. Even for experts, research is important for building your reputation. Gathering citations, quoting other experts, and getting the basic facts straight is key to reinforcing your authority and expertise.
Researching Content For Your Blog is Easy
This often-overlooked step causes bloggers a lot of heartache. One wrong fact, one unattributed quote, and you’re an Internet meme. There goes the reputation you worked so hard to build.
Don’t assume you know everything in your field, even if it seems that nothing has changed in a long time.
Don’t assume your memory is perfect, even if you’re an expert. Especially if you’re an expert.
Part of being a pro is knowing who the other pros are. Giving credit where credit is due makes you look like an authority–and a good person.
Confirm the Facts
Take some time to research content for your blog topic. Review recent data so you’re current. Check even the simple things: the correct spelling of a name, complete titles, accurate organization names, dates of important events you mention. This sounds trivial, but it reinforces your credibility; if you can’t get the basics right, readers will wonder what else you’ve gotten wrong.
Gather Quotes to Support Your Content
This is another way to improve your SEO, but more importantly, it also helps communicate credibility. If you can, interview colleagues and influencers and get their opinions. You can use this information in two ways: to support your position, or to refute someone else’s view. Either way, it gives you something to write about.
Always, always, always give credit to your sources (unless they prefer to remain anonymous, of course).
Look for Instructive Images
Researching content for your blog goes beyond words and data. You’ll want to include supporting images in your post. Look for visuals that add meaning. Charts and graphs are great for illustrating complex concepts, data, and trends quickly.
Collect attribution information for each image so you can give appropriate credit in your post. Do this even for free images. It’s the right thing to do.
Use Canva to create images, infographics, and social media-ready posts. The free version may be robust enough for your purposes, though the subscription is reasonably priced.
There are a number of sources for stock images. Getty Images, Shutterstock, Pexels, Unsplash, Nappy.co, and Pixabay are all places to explore. I love Unsplash for its inclusive pictures: size, gender, skin color, people from all walks of life. Nappy is another great source for high-quality images of Black people.
Tips for Success
If you’re not exactly Michaelangelo, consider investing in a graphic artist to help. Someone with a trained eye can probably create what you need quickly–and it’s a lot less expensive than doing it yourself.
Consider your readers when you’re looking for images. Do pictures of people represent your target audience? Photos of nothing but white people are, well, boring. They also communicate an unwelcoming message.
For heaven’s sake, don’t grab text or images from someone else’s website without asking permission from the owner. You can get yourself in a heap of trouble that way–not to mention having to fork out money when the lawyers come calling. Don’t believe me? Read this post from Kelley Way, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property. (She addresses fair use content in another blog post.)
If you’re curious about Parts 1 through 3 of this series on how to write a blog:
How to Write a Blog, Part 1, gives you an overall approach to guide your blog writing efforts. A little bit of structure can be a good thing.
Part 2: Plan for Strong Results walks you through how to plan out a series of blog posts. Why go to all the work of writing a blog if you don’t have a goal?
The first article in this series outlined my process for how to write a blog post. The second one gave you a framework for success with some planning.
In this article, I’m going to cover an essential concept for bloggers: on-page search engine optimization (SEO). I include it in the Research step of my process, but this is an important topic and worth a separate post.
Why Should You Care About SEO?
Chasing SEO rankings can be frustrating, especially if you’re a one-person shop or small business. You may not think you have a chance of ending up on the first page of search results, but SEO is essential if you want to:
Boost your reputation for credibility and authority
Attract new customers and retain existing ones
Build your brand
Increase traffic to your website
Stay ahead of your competition
There are two broad categories of SEO: technical and on-page. Your webmaster can help you with the intricacies of technical SEO; that’s above my pay grade. As a blogger, however, you can take some simple steps to improve your blog’s on-page SEO.
What Is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO is just Google’s term for good writing. It includes all the things a writer should be doing to produce great content, plus one more to make search engines happy. Good on-page SEO:
Answers readers’ questions
Employs clear, concise, well-formatted copy
Provides information for search engines so they can find and display your content
Keyword Questions You Were Afraid to Ask
On-page SEO starts with keywords, so let’s dive in.
What Is a Keyword?
A keyword is a wordthat a user enters into a search engine when looking for information. For example, I typed “backpack” into Google’s search bar. Here’s the search engine results page.
In about a second, Google served up 740,000,000 (!!!) results: images, maps, snippets of information, and links to other sites. It even helpfully organized all of this data into separate tabs to help me find what I want. Even so, it’s overwhelming.
What is a Long Tail Keyword?
A long-tail keyword is a phrase that more accurately describes what someone is seeking. Searchers use phrases to help narrow down the list of results and make them more relevant. For example, when I entered the long-tailed keyword “waterproof backpacks on sale near me,” Google presented the following information.
Google knows my location, so it shows nearby stores selling waterproof backpacks on a map. It also lists many more places where I can buy waterproof backpacks. The search results page has about two-thirds as many listings (448,000,000 is still a huge number). But the information presented is much more useful.
When you’re a small business, it can pay to use long-tail keywords. They’re more likely to answer a specific user question, and therefore more likely to put you closer to the top of the search results page.
Note: from now on, I’m going to use “keyword” and “long-tail keyword” interchangeably.
What Are Paid Search Results?
Paid search results are advertisements. Many businesses pay to advertise on Google and, while they have to match the keyword you entered to show up in your results, some paid advertisements get ranked at the top of the page. They’re also marked to show they’re ads.
There are two ways to identify a paid ad:
Look for the word “Sponsored” near the top of the page, as shown in the screenshots above.
Depending on what you’re searching for, you may also see “Ad” in a small box in the search results listing.
What Are Organic Search Results?
Organic search results appear below ads on the search results listing. Google ranks items based on how well it thinks the content matches a searcher’s intent. (It’s not that simple, but this is a good enough explanation for our purposes.)
Do I Have to Buy an Ad To Show Up on Search Results Pages?
No, you don’t have to buy an ad on Google. Paid advertising can get expensive, especially for popular keywords. Besides, most users have learned to ignore paid ads and skip to the organic search results.
Can I Have More Than One Keyword?
Absolutely. For the best results, you should plan to use a combination of keywords and long-tail keywords in your blog.
However, you need to select one as your target keyword. You’ll incorporate your target keyword into the blog title, at least one header, and the body of your text.
The rest of the keywords are called related keywords. Google recognizes related keywords, so it’s worth working them into your content. (We’ll talk about using keywords in the next couple of articles in this series.)
So how do you research keywords?
Step 1: Know Thy Customer
If you haven’t done any planning for your blog, stop now. Go back to the second post in this series, “How To Write a Blog, Part 2: Plan for Strong Results. One of the topics talked about understanding your customer well enough to know what problems you can solve for them. If you need to, review that before you go any further with keywords. When you understand your customer and her challenges, figuring out your keywords becomes much easier. (And that’s one of the reasons why the planning step is so important.)
Step 2: Build a Keyword List
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Ask yourself how you might search for the topic you want to address. Write down every idea that comes to mind; you can prune later. If you get stuck (I do), ask a customer, colleague, or friend how they might go about the search.
Once you have a list, key the words and phrases into Google’s search bar and note the suggestions that it displays. For instance, when I keyed “backpacks on sale” in the examples above, Google presented the following results.
Right there, I have more ideas for search terms (keywords) others are using. You may want to do this several times to get ideas for more keywords.
You can also use the Google Keywords Planner to get more detailed results. Here’s an example of what I saw when I searched for “backpack,” “waterproof backpack,” “tote,” and “backpack near me.”
The Keywords Planner gives you a lot of good information.
Broaden Your Search lists suggestions for other keywords
Refine Keywords helps you target a specific audience using several criteria
Avg. Monthly Searches tells you the popularity of the keyword with searchers
Competition indicates how many other people are using the same keyword
The rest of the information applies to paid ads. The data will show just how popular a term is by showing how much advertisers will pay to use it. You may not care about paid advertising, but this is useful information for gauging how popular your keywords are.
You can download this list if you want, though it can be a long one. I prefer to add the keywords I’m interested in, the average monthly search data, and the competition ranking to my own spreadsheet.
Step 3: Review the List
Once you’re satisfied you’ve identified the relevant keywords, review the list. If you have a long list, score each keyword (high/medium/low, or 1, 2,3) to help you focus on the best choices. Sort the list by score and see what pops out.
If it seems like the keyword list is steering you to different topics than the one you planned on using, you have two options:
Look for different keywords
Reconsider your topic or the angle you planned to take
Step 4: Choose One To Be Your Target Keyword
Once you have a final list of keywords, pick one to be the target keyword/phrase for the blog. There are two philosophies about how to do this:
Popularity. Higher competition for a keyword means more advertisers are bidding for that term. If you want to tackle a popular topic, this might be the right keyword to use. But it will also be tough to get a high search ranking–if that’s important to you.
Lack of popularity. The opposite approach may identify a niche. The fewer advertisers there are bidding for a term, the easier it’s going to be for you to rank highly in search results.
There’s no right answer here, and sometimes it comes down to a coin toss.
Good for you! Your keyword research is done. Next up in this series on how to write a blog post, I’ll talk about writing eye-catching titles and calls to action. Titles are the first place where you put your keyword list to use. They signal to the reader (and to search engines) what problem you’ll be solving for them and they’re key to getting a reader to pay attention to you.
Tools You Can Use
Moz offers a Keyword Explorer tool that’s free for up to 10 keyword searches a month. This option is perfect if you’re a blogger and don’t need anything else.
SEMRush and Ahrefs are also excellent sources for keyword research and much, much more. But like Moz’s full-service offering, subscriptions can be expensive. They may not be worth the investment unless SEO is your thing.
If you use WordPress for your blog, I highly recommend adding the Yoast plug-in. Even the free version will help you improve your SEO with actionable suggestions. If you want to learn more about using keywords, Yoast has an excellent blog on the topic.
Tips for Success
Google offers a great series of workshops in the Google Analytics Academy. I recommend watching Analytics for Beginners to develop a basic understanding of this topic.
Don’t overthink your keywords. About a third of the effort you spend on your blog should go to planning and research together.
Need Help With On-Page SEO For Your Blog?
Are you stuck? Want to brainstorm? Don’t know where to start? Schedule some time to talk with me. I may be able to help you get unstuck and give you ideas on how to find and use keywords successfully.
If you’re making the effort to write a blog, you want people to read it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of competition. Hosting Tribunal says it in a nutshell: “To date, there are more than 500 million blogs out of 1.7 billion websites in the world. Their authors account for over 2 million blog posts daily.”
How can you stand out? Some forethought and planning will help.
What precisely do you want to gain from blogging? If you’re not sure about this before you start, the whole thing becomes an exercise in frustration.
Answer your customers’ questions. That means you have to know who your customers are and what they want.
Put your spin on it. Yes, a lot of people write blogs. And yes, your customers care what you have to say.
Plan For Writing a Blog
Before you start dashing off ideas, take a few minutes to think through your goals, your audience, and your angle. Clarity at this stage makes writing a blog much more rewarding.
Don’t start writing until you can answer the questions below. Or at least recognize that for you, blogging is a hobby, not a way to grow your business. (No judgment from me. I’ve blogged for all sorts of reasons, not all of them related to business.)
Question 1: What Are Your Blogging Goals?
If you’re going to commit to the work of writing, figure out what you want to achieve before you start. It’s OK if you’re going to write because you love it. (I do.) But don’t miss this opportunity to reach a specific goal.
Do you want to:
Acquire sales leads?
Attract people to your website?
Build a following?
Demonstrate your expertise?
Expand your network?
Be specific. There’s no wrong answer, and you may have more than one goal. Best to sort that out now.
Question 2: Who Do You Want To Reach With Your Blog?
Determine exactly who your audience is. (Clue: the answer is not “anyone who….”) Be as specific as possible; you’ll do your best job when you write as if you’re addressing a single person.
Marketers will tell you to create a persona, a detailed description of your ideal customer. For most of us, it’s easier to pick a favorite customer: someone you like and someone who you would like to work with again.
Question 3: What Problems Can You Solve For This Person?
What would your favorite/ideal customer want to know? This is not the same question as, “what can you write about?” For example, I write about a lot of things, but my writing solves problems like these for my clients:
A start-up in the autonomous vehicle space wants a white paper that explains their idea to investors in a simple, non-technical way.
A digital marketing agency needs updated website content that showcases their recent work in industries they want to penetrate.
A consultant lacks case studies that highlight her expertise for potential clients.
Question 4: What’s Your Angle?
Your angle is your take on the topic. It’s your positionor viewpoint, based on expertise and a deep understanding of your ideal customer’s problems. Your angle helps you stand out from the army of other bloggers writing on the same subject.
Many would-be bloggers tell me they don’t think they have anything new to add, that everything’s already been said by people who know more than they do. That’s probably true.
But it’s equally true that your customers rely on you, not other bloggers. They want to know what you think, what you believe, how you feel. In short, they depend on your expertise.
If you’re having trouble coming up with an angle, answer these fundamental questions to solidify your perspective.
How do you feel about the topic?
Why is this worth writing about?
Whatdo you think your reader shouldknow?
What’s in it for them, from your perspective?
If you need inspiration, this is an excellent opportunity to agree with or dispute what others say. It can generate more ideas for content and maybe even boost your SEO. (More on SEO in the next blog in this series.)
Question 6: What’s Your Call to Action?
A call to action (CTA) is what you want readers to do when they’ve finished reading. Should they:
Download a checklist, white paper, or case study?
Set up an appointment?
Visit your website?
It’s OK not to have a clear call to action. Just make it a conscious decision; don’t let this be a missed opportunity.
My Favorite Planning Tool When I Write a Blog
Yup, you got it—sticky notes. They are my all-time favorite planning tool for anything from updating my herb garden to managing a major systems implementation.
If you want to know why, my friend Shawne Greene says it all in her blog.
Tips for Success
Once you’ve completed this planning exercise, you may not have to do it again. What you learn in this step will probably hold true for a while.
Blogging regularly can seem overwhelming. You do have other things to accomplish. Schedule a time and write several related posts at once. It’s more efficient, and you will be able to catch inconsistencies more easily.
To save your sanity, create a content calendar dedicated to the activities needed to publish a blog. Establish how often you want to post and put that in the calendar. Add milestones to account for the different stages of work, and for any tasks that others need to complete in support.
Keep an idea bank. Jot down anything that comes to mind, no matter how crazy. A list of ideas will is another resource for when you need inspiration.
Other Posts in This Series
This is the second in a series of posts on writing a blog. Here’s the series:
Get started with my thoughts on whether non-writers can blog (spoiler alert: they can, and should), and the process I use in How To Write a Blog, Part 1.
Here’s the thing about writing a blog that gets results: most people know what they want to write. What they’re missing is a process to guide them in creating a blog that people will read. So I’ve created a series of posts that lay out the process I use.
This post covers the preliminaries: whether you should write a blog (even if you’re not a writer), an overview of my approach, and a couple of my favorite writers on the subject. Future posts will cover:
Do some planning so you get results
Research and search engine optimization (SEO)
How to create a strong headline, an outline, and a call to action
Writing, editing, and publishing
Saving your sanity with a content calendar
Should I Blog?
Content is king, or so the pros tell us. We need, we must have, our business will die without blogs, videos, and social media posts. Lots of them, frequently posted, and all with fresh content. It can be overwhelming. Who needs something else to make them crazy right now?
For many of us, the easiest place to start with content is a blog. After all, how hard can it be? We write all the time: emails, presentations, reports–each of us generates a ton of content. Pick a topic and have at it, right?
As it turns out, blogging is a bit of work. But here’s the thing: the more effort you put into the upfront work, the easier it will be to write the blog and the likelier you are to be successful.
But I’m Not a Writer!
You don’t have to be a great writer to author a successful blog. You just need some expertise or a point of view about something in your field. Most of us have at least one of these qualifications, usually in aces.
You also need a process to guide you on how to write a blog. There are some basic things you can do to produce excellent content that your audience will appreciate. They aren’t complicated and, even better, most of it doesn’t involve writing.
How To Write a Blog: A Process
Here’s the process I follow when writing a blog for myself or my clients. I’ve adapted this from several sources and added some bits that I think are important. I’d particularly like to acknowledge Anne Janzer’s “The Writer’s Process” and, “Everybody Writes” by Anne Handley. (Both authors publish excellent newsletters, too, if you’re interested.)
Before you ever put pen to paper, answer these simple questions.
Who are you trying to reach?
What do they want to know?
Whatdo you want them to do once they’ve read your blog?
Only after you’ve completed this step should you proceed. Because if you can’t answer these questions, the content you’re so proud of will fall on deaf ears.
In fact, I think this topic is so important that I’m going to address it in its own post instead of combining it with the next step, research.
There are two parts to this step: keyword research (for SEO) and research to confirm facts, gather quotes from experts, and find appropriate images.
Yes, you should do this before you start writing. You may uncover something that changes what you want to say or how you want to approach the subject. To improve your SEO rankings and build credibility, you’ll want quotes, experts to cite, and websites you can link to.
SEO research doesn’t have to take a lot of time or involve the use of arcane technology (though it can). I’m going to recommend some simple tools and a basic approach that will get you started. Where you go after that is up to you.
Draft a strong headline and a call to action (CTA), and identify the major points you want to make. Take it from an experienced writer: headlines are often the hardest part of the entire process.
I know you’re itching to write, but Google and humans both pay a lot of attention to headlines. You want something crisp, concise, and compelling that will draw people in. And if you don’t bring them in, all this work is for naught.
As for a call to action: you don’t always need (or want) one, but make that a conscious decision. Don’t waste this opportunity to let people know what you offer and how they can reach you.
Once you’ve got your opening headline and closing CTA, the rest should fall into place–another reason why you want to do this before you start writing.
This is the easy part because of all the work you’ve done to get this far. Have at it. Write to your heart’s content. You’ll worry about cleaning it up in the next step. Don’t edit yourself, and don’t worry about length right now; focus on getting your message across.
Polish and Publish
Editing your work can be a painful experience. Frankly, it’s challenging. I’ve just told you to pour your heart out, and now I’m saying, “wait a minute here.” The thing is, it’s essential to get your ideas out of your head so you can share them. In this step, you’ll polish those gems until they shine like the diamonds they are.
Never fear, I’ll be giving you some suggestions for how to edit your writing in a future post, along with a few things to know to prepare your blog for publishing. There are some excellent automated tools to help, and I’ll tell you what they are, too