When writing high-quality blog content with SEO intent, there is a lot to remember. That’s where our complete blog SEO checklist comes in handy.
I developed this checklist over the years of optimizing client content and my own experimental testing. I also scanned the internet for the best current SEO checklists, vetted, and combined all of this into one epic and complete checklist.
This specific list is everything you should be thinking about after you’ve done your initial keyword research and you have some ideas for a target keyword and topic.
Let’s dive into what’s covered:
- Search Engine Ranking Factors Overview
- Blog SEO Checklist
- Blog SEO & Writing Resources
- Bonus #1: Blog SEO Audit & Refresh Checklist
- Bonus #2: Blog SEO Guidelines Presentation
Search Engine Ranking Factors Overview
Before we break down the checklist itself it’s important to understand why I’ve made the recommendations provided. This information is based on current SEO best practices including the understanding of Google’s many different ranking factors.
SEMRush has performed a study to consolidate all of these ranking factors in one simple and easy to understand chart.
You can see that user behavior metrics are one of the top driving forces of Google’s Algorithm.
That’s why many of the recommendations in the SEO checklist have to do with encouraging positive behavioral metrics as a response to user’s interaction with the content.
Things like Time on Page, Click Through Rate, and Bounce Rate all impact your blog’s performance.
Google wants to understand if users are satisfied by the information they are consuming. If they are, they tend to rank you higher. If not, you’ll tend to rank lower. This is a very basic summary of Google RankBrain.
RankBrain is part of the current way Google analyzes content and it’s important to understand how it works in order to write content that will rank well.
Writing content more than ever now is about writing content for users, rather than for computers. It’s all about satisfying user search intent.
Backlinks used to be one of the #1 ranking factors for Google’s search engine algorithm. Unfortunately leaning so heavily on this metric alone led to a broken system that was abused and gamed.
Things like link farms and PBN’s (Private Blog Networks) were rampant. These were ways to trick the algorithm into thinking your article was more popular or relevant than it was.
These tactics are still used today and consider ‘Gray Hat’ or ‘Black Hat’ tactics but their viability is much much weaker and will likely lead to deranking or significant loss of positioning on the SERP for domains that use them.
Thankfully, today Google relies much more on advanced and user-based metrics and understands illegitimate tactics like this.
That being said, backlinks are still extremely important. They are signals to Google that your content is interesting, valuable, and trustworthy.
Creating comprehensive, authoritative content that is better than any other piece of content on that topic is a great way to position yourself to acquire backlinks.
Backlinks are not guaranteed but the least you can do is set yourself up for success by following this SEO checklist closely.
There are many backlink building tactics but the most basic approach is simply sharing your article through social media and email campaigns.
Check out this backlink building guide from Moz for a full breakdown on how it’s done.
Internal & External Linking
Linking is an often overlooked SEO factor but it’s as important today as ever.
Internal and external linking serve a couple of purposes:
- Internal and external linking allows Google to understand what content is related to yours.
- Internal linking allows Google to crawl your site more efficiently.
- External linking helps show your article is trustworthy.
When you don’t link your content internally or externally (outbound links) you are effectively isolating your content.
Imagine content living on an island with no sign of life! This is basically what Google sees when it crawls an isolated blog. You want Google to easily be able to find and trust your content so it’s important to build bridges (create links) to other pages on your site and to other websites.
One excellent way of structuring internal content is through the Hub and Spoke model (also known as Topic Clusters)
Using the Hub and Spoke model effectively organizes your content, allows for efficient crawling of your site, and helps properly distribute authority (ranking power) among your content by bolstering your strongest (Pillar) content.
Similar to backlinks, keywords had their hay day. Keywords are still very important and relevant but not like they used to be.
Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and using the same words over and over again to rank highly on Google.
The reality is, keywords alone are far to simple to base rankings off of. That’s why Google has developed things like RankBrain to make the system much smarter.
Here at Nomadic we like to think of keywords more as topics rather than individual words that get shoved into an article.
Your target keyword is your topic and any related secondary keywords are typically your sub topics.
For example, if you were writing an authoritative piece on juggling balls your target keyword would be “juggling balls” and your secondary keywords are the related queries like: “how to juggle 3 balls, best juggling balls, most balls juggled.”
Rather than creating a mess of content with these keywords tossed in as you see fit, you can now create a structured piece of content that answers all potential user search queries related to that topic.
Now that you have a good understanding of Google’s Search algorithm and how ranking works in 2020, let’s jump into the actual checklist.
Remember that there are many ranking factors that are unknown to the public since Google doesn’t want to share the keys to the castle, they keep some things behind closed doors.
In general, we understand what they are looking for and believe through the studying of successful content we can shed light on how to help your content rank better on Google.
Here we’ll break down the full SEO checklist for blog content and provide some links to helpful resources along the way.
We’ve sorted the tasks into priorities based on SEO best practices and our experience. The low priority tasks are still important but we don’t see them as critical because they either aren’t always relevant or have very little impact on SEO.
Remember this is a general guideline and just because you didn’t check off an item or didn’t follow it exactly, doesn’t mean your content will fail. There are many high ranking articles that go against the grain but we see this as a solid rule of thumb.
If you want to create a copy of the blog SEO checklist for yourself, here is a link to the Google Sheets document.
Now let’s get into the specifics.
Analyze the SERP
Using the 10x Method (discussed further below), analyze your competitors, and see what it’s going to take to outrank them.
What did they miss that you can include?
What did they do well that you can do even better?
Is their content fully comprehensive?
Make sure your content is the best content on that particular topic.
Understand Search Intent
Google your target query and see what the current landscape looks like. If no blogs are in the SERP or it’s saturated with domains that might be extremely difficult to compete with, it might not be the right keyword to target.
Understand what users are looking for answers to related to your topic. Use Also Asked to find these related queries. Make sure your blog is the #1 source for information on this topic by fully satisfying user search intent.
URL is Short and Contains Keywords
Shorter URL’s that contain keywords have been proven to be more effective in ranking than longer URL’s without keywords.
Instead of using your entire blog title as the permalink, shorten it to contain the target keywords.
For example, a blog titled “How to Juggle: 3 Ball Juggling for Beginners” would become “/how-to-juggle”.
Title Contains Keywords
This goes for the SEO title (what’s seen on the SERP) and your H1. Although not as important as it used to be – it’s still a really good idea to make sure your keyword or least something semantically related to it is in there.
These are two signals that communicate to Google what your content is about and it will help users understand your content is relevant to them.
Title is 12-18 Words
Titles within this range will display properly on Google’s SERP. Long titles get truncated (cut off) and lead to worse Click-Through Rates. Short titles are easier to read and more likely to catch the eye.
Titles Contain Brackets, Parenthesis, and/or Numbers
These features in your SEO title will draw attention to that specific attribute that you are isolating and improve Click Through Rates. It’s a great way to highlight a reason why a user should click your article instead of a competitors.
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Title Entices Users to Click
Similar to the items above, think about why users would want to click your article over another. Since user behavior metrics are extremely important to your performance, you’ll want to make sure users are clicking through to your article.
Analyze the SERP and think of ways you could attract users to your article through the SEO title.
Introduction Paragraph is 4-7 Sentences (or less)
Attention spans are short and getting users to stick on your page and not bounce away could be the key to your article ranking well or not ranking well.
If your introduction paragraph is a wall of text, users could easily just bounce away without scrolling at all.
Use a hook to draw them in!
Introduction Paragraph Contains Keyword
This is one of those old-school tactics that still work. When Google crawls your article, seeing the core keywords early in the content will help the algorithm understand exactly what your content is about.
Introduction Paragraph Answers User Search Query
Google wants users search intent to be answered as quickly as possible. They don’t want users to have to get through an entire article to find their answer. So using your keywords and answer user search queries quickly is a wise move.
Sub Headings are H2’s
I see this missed so often. Like H1’s, H2’s are an important signal to Google (and to humans) as to what your article is about. Make sure your sub sections headings are H2.
Sub Sub Headings are H3’s
Simple categorization tells us that sub topics of your sub topics should be H3’s. H3’s are great for breaking things up visually and attracting users further and further into your article. They are also important signals, similar to the other heading types.
Sub Headings are Detailed and Contain Keywords
Make sure your subheadings are logical and make sense for that particular section of the article. Just like in the piece you’re reading, I’m using them to break up smaller chunks of information that you’re likely going to be looking for based on the context of the article.
Images are Not Over Sized
This is a really common problem that can have devastating effects on the performance of your article.
Images can be really really giant assets if you aren’t careful. Each user will have to load that content when they come to the site and if your page takes too long to load, that user will likely bounce.
Site speed is as important as ever in optimizing your content.
Image File Type is JPG
This is pretty low priority in the grand scheme of things but it goes hand in hand with image optimization. Make sure your images are fit to load quickly. This might mean JPG is your best file type.
Images are in Shareable Format
Part of acquiring backlinks, traffic, and authority is producing shareable content. One way users do this is through social media.
Certain platforms have image size requirements that you’ll want to follow in order to promote sharing on that specific site.
Image File Names Contain Target Keywords
Image file names do actually count as keywords on your article. This isn’t a make or break situation but if it can help you might as well do it.
Image ALT’s are Descriptive and Contain File Name
Similar to image file names, this is a minor but still relevant consideration. Make sure to use your target keywords (where relevant) within the ALT tags.
Post Contains at Least 5 Images and 1 Video
We are more visual than ever and reading content fades with instant gratification gaining more and more traction. Visuals are extremely important for drawing user attention and increasing time on page.
Embedded YouTube videos are a fantastic way to keep readers on your site.
Post Contains 2-5 Internal Links
As discussed above, internally linking is more important than you might think. Make sure to logically build your structure and pepper in your links where possible.
Post Contains External Links
Make sure you are linking to authoritative and trustworthy articles that will help back up claims or help users find information that may be further helpful.
Font Size is Between 15-18
Larger fonts with darker colors are easier to read. Make sure your fonts are optimized for easy reading and scanning.
Content is Broken Up into Logical Sections
Like this very article, your content should have sections that make it as easy as possible to scan and skim your content.
Very few readers will read every word so make it user friendly by allowing them to easily get where they need to be to find their answer.
Write for Humans, Optimize for Search Engines
SEO used to be all about “writing for the algo” but now Google has stepped up their game. It’s important to always keep the user in mind and how they will interact with your content. Then you can think about how to optimize for search engines.
Technically in 2020 when you write for humans, you are therefor optimizing for search engines.
Paragraphs are Broken Up into Short Blocks of Text
Gone are the days of following APA format for articles. Your blogs typically don’t need to have formal formatting.
Now it’s more important to make sure users can easily scan, read, and interact with your content so it’s best not to follow these rigid guidelines anyway unless you’re writing for a higher education journal or something along those lines.
Breaking up paragraphs and walls of text can help improve dwell time and it’s frankly just easier to read.
Use Bullet Points or Numbered List
Outlining your blog or your main points is a great way to give the reader a preview of what the article is about. Especially if it’s like a very large authoritative article (like this one), it can be helpful to create a table of contents at the beginning.
Use Bold and/or Italics in the Body Copy
Bold and italics aren’t a part of Google’s algorithm but this style can help to maintain reader attention or draw eyes to certain important points.
Content is Comprehensive and Answers All User Search Queries
This is the big one. If nothing else, focus on this over everything. Google wants users search queries to be answered. If users jump from one site to another (also called pogo-sticking) Google will choose another piece of content over yours to rank higher.
Post Aims for 2,000 Words or More
I get this question all the time.
“What’s the best length for my article to rank well?”
The reality: There is no “best”.
It is highly dependent on the topic and your competitors in the space. If you can comprehensively cover the topic in 500 words, then 500 words will be fine. But I’ve never seen a topic covered comprehensively in 500 words so I typically recommend 2,000+ in general.
That being said, write as many words as you need to in order to get the job done and get ahead of competitors.
Post Has a Clear Conclusion and Call to Action
Don’t forget to finish strong! Make sure you are encouraging users to take the actions you want them to take.
Meta Description is Between 100-175 Characters
There have been a lot of studies performed on meta descriptions with varying degrees of results. Some say 155 character maximum while others say 300+.
The SERP is frequently changing how it displays results based on what Google is testing and the number of maximum characters a meta description can be without being truncated will change.
In general, we’ve found that meta descriptions between 100-175 characters to be optimal and work well in most cases.
Meta Description is Written to Entice Clicks
Just like your SEO title, your meta description has an influence on whether or not users click your article. Make sure you understand search intent and your competitors to optimize CTR.
Meta Description Contains Keywords
Another opportunity to include a keyword in a place where Google and users want to see it. Do it!
Post Has Human Author
Blog authors can be a signal of authority for your site. Depending on your niche it may be more important than you think.
When Google came out with the Medic Update, sites concerning YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) faced possible deranking if they did not comply with E-A-T (Expertise Authority and Trust) guidelines.
Having a legitimate and knowledgeable author to your blog is something they want to see. Make sure your bios or author pages are built out and feature credentials.
Submit the Post to Google Search Console
This is low hanging fruit for getting your content on Google’s SERP. Enter your URL inside of the Search Console Inspect tool and request crawling. This will help expedite getting your content onto Google’s index and in front of reader’s eyes.
This is possibly the most overlooked part of producing blog content and the SEO process. It’s been said that you should spend as much time on your distribution strategy and execution as you do planning and writing your content.
Most people definitely do not do that. But this could be just the edge you need to get ahead of your competitors.
Distributing your content is incredibly important for getting early traffic to your article and acquiring backlinks.
Don’t brush over checklist task!
Now that you have the checklist and understand each element, there are a couple of extra pieces of knowledge that you’ll want to understand before you begin.
These articles are what I’ve found to be the most helpful and complete in understanding SEO for blog content writing.
If you read all of these and follow the content checklist, you’ll be on your way to producing a great piece of content.
This article will give you a great foundation on understanding how to structure your blog and how to communicate effectively with your audience.
And since it’s written by Brian Dean, it of course has a thorough tie to SEO.
10x Content (or the 10x Method) is in-part what this entire approach revolves around.
The aim is to produce content that is 10 times better than your competitors. In every. single. aspect.
More questions answered
and so on.
You want to create the best and most comprehensive piece of content on whatever your target topic is.
In my experience, you almost never actually reach the ’10x’ but you instead end up doing 3-4x which is still incredibly good and in many instances, enough to get you ahead of the competition.
The point is to shoot as high as possible. Be the best.
RankBrain, as we discussed above, is part of how Google’s algorithm currently functions. It’s how content is ranked in the search engine.
Obviously that is extremely important to understand in order to rank well on Google. This is a must read for SEO blog writing!
Adding fresh content regularly to your blog is great and should always be in your wheelhouse. But not everyone realizes SEO success may be right in front of them already.
If you have preexisting blog content on your site, it’s a great idea to go look at the data for those articles and assess how they could be improved or repurposed.
Often times you’ll find opportunities to gain new traffic to your site or improve rankings.
This checklist will help you go back an audit your work to make sure it’s up to par.
Here is the Google Sheets link to the Blog Content SEO Audit & Refresh Checklist.
This article covers a lot of information. If you need it in a condensed version to show your team, manager, or client, we’ve got you covered.
Here is a presentation of the content from our blog, including examples and data to help understand what works and what doesn’t:
That’s everything you need to know to get started writing awesome content with blog SEO in mind. Get writing!
Other content from our blog you might be interested in:
- Learn SEO: The ULTIMATE List Of Awesome Resources & Tools
- Best SEO Audit Software for Your Website (3 Advanced Tools)
- Supercharge Your WordPress Site [All-in-One Plugin Suite]
If you need help with your SEO or blog content, Nomadic would love to help! Get in touch with our Digital Marketing Department today.