As the owner of five cats, six aquariums, and a two-year-old boy, with part-time guinea pigs staying over the summer from my wife’s classroom, my house is more like the local zoo than a home office. So I get it – if you’re blogging from home (like I am now, with a cat curled up in my arms and occasionally walking on the keyboard), whatever order you can bring to your life is a welcome addition.
To help you get started with your site’s own SEO (Search Engine Optimization) project, I’ve got the project of optimizing your content completely organized and ready to go!
What You’ll Need:
- (Free) An Airtable Account – I’ve set up the whole project for you there.
- (Free) A Google Account – I’ve set up a Google Sheet for you, but you’ll need a Google account to use it.
- (Free, only for WordPress) The Yoast Plugin – This plugin makes it easy to add metadata and social markup. You can find it here, along with clear instructions on how to install it.
I also highly recommend you have a copy of Pet Blogging For Love & Money on hand, as it provides solid and accessible background information for everything I’m covering below – even if this is all completely new to you. It was compiled by the lovely industry leaders Carol Bryant and Maggie Marton, both of whom I adore. You can snag it on Amazon.com in paperback or digital copy. Also, I’m in it too, so you can get more of my tips and tricks as well! 🙂
For this section, I’ve created the following resources for you:
- This Airtable base template, with everything you need to organize your metadata and other SEO elements into one place. You can make a copy of it by clicking “Copy Base” on the top right-hand corner.
- This Google Sheet, with tabs for meta titles and meta descriptions that will even count the number of characters for you!
Unlike most SEO’s, I think keyword research is becoming increasingly less important as time goes on. Google’s algorithm changes over the past few years all seem to be geared to helping their search engine understand how to interpret language, not just match keywords. As that continues, I think that people will need to move away from working for exact-match keywords, and focus on making content that meets the needs of that search better than anyone else.
That being said, keyword research is a good way to find out which topics people are interested in the most, and what kind of language they’re using when talking about it. It’s also a good way to find ideas for content, as some of the things that come up will surprise you.
When it comes to keyword research, I like to use these resources:
- Google’s Keyword Planner
This tool provides keyword ranking data straight from the source at Google – it’s a great way to get some of the most accurate keyword data possible. However, this is meant for paid ads use, not SEO research, and Google doesn’t give you very specific data if you’re not spending a lot in ad revenue. If you have access to a good account, this is great. Otherwise, you might be getting numbers that are super vague, like 10, 100, 1,000, etc. – which isn’t so helpful.
This is my go-to keyword research tool, but it does cost $100/month or so to use. You can get pretty accurate and specific keyword data from this tool, and it allows research on alternate platforms too – like YouTube and Amazon. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can also do competitive research on what related websites are ranking for. This is the one I personally pay for and use as a freelancer.
SEMrush is also a good option for keyword research and competitive data, and is similar to AHREFS in pricing and services. I find that the numbers for SEMrush don’t line up as well with Google Keyword planner as the ones for AHREFS do, and I also feel the layout is slightly less intuitive. But this is a very good option, and I do purchase a month here and there when I want a “second opinion” on my research.
- Google Trends
Google Trends isn’t so much a way to find new keywords as to research the popularity of existing keywords over time. If you’re curious if interest is waxing or waning on a topic, this is a convenient way to look it up. Check out the trends on CBD for Pets over the past five years, and you’ll see what I mean.
- Google’s Suggest Feature
When you type in questions in a Google search, autocomplete comes up and tries to finish your question for you. Writing down those variants and creating content to meet them is a great way to target questions people are really asking online. You can also get ideas from the “People also ask” box, as shown in the image below. =^_^=
Advanced Tip: When writing content using Google Suggest for ideas: Match the question with the title of your article, the URL of your article, and the filename of one of your images (and its alt text), and you might appear in the rich snippet (like the answer shown below). It also helps if your article has a 200-330-character answer to the question near the top of the article, and you use bulleted and/or numbered lists in your article.
Articles appearing in this highly visible position get a LOT more clicks than others, will also rank for related questions, and will become some of your top content. To rank, you’ll also need to appear on page one for that search, and it does take time to get there – sometimes a year or more. But it’s worth the investment!
I like to order my keyword research in a Google sheet, but there’s no right or wrong way to do this. Where it makes sense ( it doesn’t make sense to target competitive keywords on your About Us page or Contact page, for example ) target one main keyword, and add one or two others in there as well.
To help you get started, I’ve set up an Airtable base for everyone that has a spot to record your keywords for each page. I’ve also added fields for other SEO data I’m mentioning throughout this article, making this a one-stop solution for your SEO drafting. Airtable also allows collaboration, so if your blog has multiple authors, you can all work on it together. And it’s SUPER easy to use – you’ll figure it out right away. Make a copy of my table for yourself, customize it if you like, and you’re ready to get started!
I’m also sharing a copy of the Google Sheet I use to write meta titles (see the “Title Metadata” tab). I like this because I can copy my old meta descriptions in the first part and use it as a reference when writing the new one.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be very happy to answer them!
When writing meta titles, remember that you’re writing them for a search audience – these are people who have a specific idea of what they’re looking for, and want to find the result that can best – and most directly – meet their need. Matching keywords is a ranking factor in meta titles too, but not as much as you might think. For example, if I search “soothe poison ivy”, here’s what Google serves up:
That’s it! Just one mention of the word “soothe”, probably by coincidence more than anything. So don’t worry TOO much about the keyword – get it in there, but focus on getting those clicks too!
Creating Awesome Meta Titles
- Match your title with what you think the person searching for your target keyword will want to find. If you’re not sure what that is, search the keyword on Google, and see what other people are writing about that rank on page one.
- Make title tags no more than 55 characters in length to help ensure that they’re not truncated (with an ellipsis – see image below) in search results. Not sure if yours is too long? Try Moz’s free title tag tool to see if it’s ok.
- Write titles in sentence case title case, not in all caps. User Experience (UX) studies have proven that all caps is the least readable format, so using them gets less of a searcher’s attention.
- If your brand or blog name is well known, include it in the title – people will trust it and be more likely to click through.
- Consider using emojis in your title text. Google has started showing them in search, and because few people know about this, they really stand out. Don’t go crazy with it (it might not last forever), but it’s a fun way to add quirk and personality to your listings, and get some extra clicks.
- Databox has a great suggestion – instead of using pipe ( | ) or dash separators in title tags, try picking something unique! Swapping it out with something like » has shown to increase clickthrough rates by 2-5% or more.
- Use power words and emotional words (not clickbait) to encourage clickthroughs. For example, change “How to make dog treats” to “How to make incredible dog treats” to build searchers’ enthusiasm.
Want more tips on title tags? Check out this recent article from Databox. It’s the best article of its type I’ve read in years.
Unlike meta titles, meta descriptions have no keyword-ranking value. The goal here is to establish the relevance of what’s being searched for, while enticing visitors to click through to your content.
What Makes Fabulous Meta Descriptions
- For non-blog pages, your meta description should be 130-150 characters in length. If it’s a blog post (or something else that’s published with a date, like a press release), Google will probably insert that date at the beginning of the meta description, taking 12 of your characters. In this case, I’d try to keep your meta description to 138 characters maximum. As with meta titles, going over the limit with meta descriptions will add an ellipsis to the end of your text (see image below).
- Write your meta descriptions in natural, readable sentences, and write those sentences in imperative form, telling visitors what they’ll find, and what they should be doing, when they click through. For example, instead of:
“There’s three basic types of aquarium water – salt, fresh, and brackish. But it goes much deeper, with degrees of salinity, water quality, and temperature.”
Discover why every aquarium is unique- saltwater, freshwater, or something in between. Explore how water quality, temperature, and more factors in.
or add a CTA and further increase your clickthrough rate:
Discover how water-quality factors such as salinity, temperature, and minerals makes every aquarium unique. Sign up for a webinar to learn even more!
Much better, and you’ve done the thinking for them!
- If you didn’t mention your brand or blog name in the meta title, definitely add it here. Even if they don’t know you yet, you want them to get to know you as soon as possible.
- Want something to count your characters live? I like this Character Counter Tool, and use it often to help me squeeze every last drop out of my metadata on the fly.
- One slightly sneaky trick I’ve been reading about lately is to _intentionally_ include an ellipsis when writing a meta description, making it look like a cliffhanger in search results. When you’re writing, think about trying something like this:
I’d always thought that dogs and cats couldn’t get Lyme disease, even if they carry the ticks. But when my Jack Russell started acting lethargic …
I bet it works really well. I’m planning on trying this out soon.
If you have Maggie and Carol’s book on hand, you definitely want to read pages 68-84 along with the above – they do a fantastic job of making all of this incredibly simple and easy to digest.
Advanced Tip: Pulling all your current meta titles and descriptions off your website is a big pain! If your site is 500 URL’s or less, you might want to try downloading and using the free version of the Screaming Frog’s site crawler. This is one of the most powerful and effective SEO tools out there (I pay for the full version and use it several times a week). You can pull a complete list of all your meta titles and descriptions, and copy/paste them right into the Google sheet I provided! To get you started, I made a quick video on how to do this with Screaming Frog. Enjoy!
Every blog post on your site, as well as most pages, should have at least one really good image. This makes your content much more interesting and engaging, makes it eligible for Google Image search, and probably helps it rank better in search. It also shows you care about the content, and have spent time investing in it and giving it a personal touch.
*Bonus Tip* Need an image, and hate stock imagery? Find a photo you like, and bring it to the freelancing site Fiverr to have someone make a unique, inexpensive, hand-drawn version just for you.
File Size Optimization
File size is a big deal! In the world of mobile, data is money. For example, loading my home page costs a mobile visitor about six cents in the USA. While it’s important to deliver a quality experience no matter the costs, the smaller the file size, the cheaper it is, the faster your load speed, and the more effective your site is for SEO.
Before publishing your content, load your images through Squoosh, an image optimization tool created by Google. And try not to make your images larger (in terms of height and width) than it’s likely to appear on a computer screen. Not sure how big it is? Try right-clicking on the image in Chrome, then click “Open Image In New Tab”. If the image is gigantic in the new tab, shrink it down a bit and upload it again.
It’s probably not worth changing old ones, but as you create new images for your blog, try to make their filenames descriptive and rich in keywords. Separate words with dashes, using three to five words or less. A good example would look like this:
Image Alt Text
Typically, you won’t see image alt text unless the image is missing from the page (although it sometimes appears in Google Image Search results as well). But if you’re visually impaired and are accessing your site via a screen reader, alt text is your digital lifeblood for web accessibility. It’s also pretty darn useful for SEO, and can give you that extra boost you need to up your rankings.
Write alt text in a natural way, incorporating your keyword as possible, but also really describing your image. Google will index up to the first 16 words of the meta description (words, not characters), so you can actually pack a decent amount of text in here.
I included a table in my Airtable setup where you can list out images you’d like to optimize and/or write alt text for. Or, if it works better for you, you can check out the two tabs in Google Sheets (“100k+ Images” and “Missing Alt Text”) where you can drop all your images and keep track of them as they’re optimized. When writing alt text, I even added a formula that counts the words for you! Either option works well, although I personally use the Google Sheet option.
Along with all of this, be sure to check out Page 78 of Maggie and Carol’s book , where they highlight some great tips on image optimization for you.
Advanced Tip: Screaming Frog can also pull a complete list of all the images in your site to identify which ones need alt text, as well as which ones are over 100KB in size (which is usually too big). This is a great way to easily get all your images together in one place, and make sure you’re on top of optimizing them.
Social markup is not QUITE an SEO factor, but when you consider the vast audience present there, it’s way too important to pass up. For just a little bit of extra work, you can look fantastic in this platform as well – whether you’re sharing the content or your loyal audience is.
Facebook/Open Graph Markup
Most major social media platforms use Open Graph markup, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest. By default, Yoast has Open Graph markup turned on, which you can access by clicking on the Social tab on the Yoast SEO plugin. The Yoast SEO box appears below your post and looks like this:
If you don’t write a custom title and description, your SEO meta title and meta description are used.
Tips To Optimize Your Open Graph/Facebook Markup
- Facebook images should be exactly 1200 x 630 pixels in size, and should be in .jpeg, .gif, or .png format.
- Facebook images can’t be more than 8MB in size.
- Definitely create an image for every important post.
- Target about 60-90 characters in your title. Don’t worry about keywords at all here – just make it as clickable and appealing as possible.
- Make your description no more than 200 characters, writing it for clicks only – no keyword placement needed.
Twitter Card Markup
To write Twitter Card markup with Yoast, you may need to enable Twitter Card markup first. To do this, go to the dashboard of WordPress and click on the Yoast SEO item (see image below), then navigate to the Twitter tab. Click “Enabled”, set the default card type to “Summary with large image”, and save the changes (don’t forget to click “Save changes”!). You should be all set.
Once enabled, you can access the Twitter tab just below the Facebook one, as shown below:
Twitter Card Markup Tips
- Unfortunately, Twitter Card images should be exactly 1200 x 628 pixels, and, yes, those two pixels count. Twitter takes .jpg, .png. .webp. and .gif formats (not animated gif’s, though) for their images.
- Twitter Card images should be 5MB or less in size.
- Again, definitely use an image for every important post.
- Stay at 70 characters or less for your title. Keywords won’t matter, so just make it as clickable as possible.
- Twitter is also good with a 200-character description. In fact, if you keep your Facebook/Open Graph title under 70 characters, you can use the same title and description for both.
The Airtable base I set up for you has a table where you can add all your social markup, and even upload your files for reference, so that’s ready for you to go! You can also check out these great resources:
- Facebook Sharing Debugger – Troubleshoot your Open Graph data here for Facebook sharing. If you’re tweaking it, you’ll need to use this tool to refresh it for each tweak or you’ll still see the old data. Don’t get stuck for hours on that like I did the first time. 😉
- Twitter Card Validator – This is what you’d use to troubleshoot your Twitter Card markup. Very easy to use!
- Twitter Large Image Summary Card Guidelines – Everything you’d need to know.
- BrandMentions – If you have a bigger budget and would like to keep track of your social mentions, you might also want to try this social listening tool, which can update you whenever someone’s talking about you.
Advanced Tip: Personally, I think that social markup serves a different audience than search engine markup, and I’m not a fan of the fact that Yoast encourages using your meta titles and descriptions on social. Search engine markup targets someone driven to find something specific, but social media markup is competing for someone’s unstructured time. You’ll need to write your language to be more appealing than the other clickable options, and keywords be damned.
That just about wraps it up! Feeling a little overwhelmed? Here’s a summary of the resources I have for you:
- My Airtable – For your SEO markup, SEO image optimization, and social markup. I also have a table in there that lists all of the important links I’ve mentioned throughout this blog (there’s 11 of them).
- My Google Sheet – Another way to tackle your SEO metadata and SEO for your images. Go with your preference on this one.
Of course, I also highly recommend that you snag a copy of Pet Blogging For Love And Money to get the basics fleshed as you begin.
Take things a little bit at a time – do what you can, and focus on getting new content right as you move forward, then go back and tweak the old as you have time to (starting with the best stuff). If you have any questions at all, be sure to leave them below – I’m glad to help out!