You know what's the most important part of your blog post SEO? It's easy. The blog post itself. Anything else is decoration and bonus. The content is where you must put most of your effort, if you want your blog posts to show up in searches.
Firstly, I must start this with a disclaimer. The other day (or was it today?) I saw someone asking that if SEO wasn't important, why did Google invent it. They didn't. In mid-1990s, when the early search engines surfaced and before Google existed, people where optimising websites for search engines. When I made my first website in 1998, search engine optimisation was already one of the basic things to do for your site. In case you wanted your site to be found in any search engines. Back then the importance was in keywords, which often led to keyword stuffing. This included gaming meta tags, which at least Google hasn't used in search ranking for years now. Nobody who knows anything about search engines would never say that SEO is completely unimportant. However, all those years of keyword stuffing and trying to game the search results, Google et al. have become smarter. This is why you shouldn't be concentrating on SEO.
What to concentrate on then? The people. Making sure the people will be content with your content. In this post I'm not saying users, nor visitors, not even audience. This is because I need you to understand that I'm really talking about how to make your blog posts the best for the people who read, or could read, them. The reason why the people are so important for your blog post SEO is the fact that they are the ones to share your content along, to gain more traffic for your posts as individuals and your blog as a whole, to create those inbound links that will improve your search ranking and then some. You are not blogging for search engines. It doesn't matter if search engine algorithms "think" your site is the best, if people never have any interest in your blog posts. You can optimise the images and make your site lightning fast, but that doesn't matter a bit if your content sucks.
The only real way you can target popular or long tail keywords is to create great content, which happens to include those keywords. There's an ongoing debate about blog post length, to which I'm not really getting into this time. Read the post to which I linked there, if you are interested in hearing more about that subject. Rather than quantity of words and sentences, I'm going after the quality. Quality, and the people.
I have said it before, and I say it again. Trying to write for your audience is futile. You don't really know who your audience members are, nor they know what they really want to read about. This doesn't mean that you should forget your audience. Or rather, it doesn't mean you should forget that there's people somewhere out there reading your blog posts. What you need to do, is to keep on mind that you are writing to people. Not search engines, not some mythical audience. Not even the ideal audience member. Just people. People like you and I.
First of all, there's lots of advice out there about the blog post headings and titles. Title is the first thing people see when they find your blog post in search results. Yes, there's a short snippet under the title, but the title is the most prominent thing there. Blogging platforms and content management systems, sometimes with help with add-ons, usually provide a way to add separately a heading and title to you blog posts. Unless you really, really know what you are doing, I'd recommend using the blog post heading as the title (usually the website name is added in the title, too). This also prevents confusion. If a person clicks a title on search results an comes to a website on which the main heading is something very different than what they clicked, it's confusing. Been there, confused as hell.
Google shows about 50 to 60 characters of your blog post title in search results. Longer titles are cut and there's an ellipsis (...) added to indicate the title is longer than what's shown. If your title is longer than that, do try and make the first part as interesting as possible. Many people in SEO believe the keywords in your blog post title are used as a ranking factor by search engines. That's why you don't have to make your title really short, just to make it fit in the search results. Only remember that a longer title will not be shown completely in the search result pages.
More important than the title is the heading of your blog post. I mean the main heading, such as the one you can see in the top of this post. That heading is marked in the underlying HTML-document with an h1-tag. Again, your blogging platform or service is most likely doing this, unless there's a problem with the theme or other configuration of the platform. In case you use the heading as the title as well, you don't need to worry about creating a different title and heading. Using the main keywords of your blog post in the heading is considered as a very important way to optimise the post for search engines. If you target the aforementioned long tail keywords you can consider using that whole keyphrase as the heading of your post. The heading is usually also what gets shared alongside the link to your post in social media (depending on many things, such as settings of your sharing buttons and if people choose to use the title when they share the post).
My only advice about the blog post heading really is to make it descriptive about the content of your post. You can try all the different approaches, such as using numbers, or certain "power words", or other such ways to make the heading more intriguing. Just keep in mind that everyone else is using those approaches too, thus your heading is not going to stand out very well from the online crowd. Besides, following too much of that great advice, you'll end up making headings which are not relevant to the rest of the content of your posts or are otherwise click-baity. I really have grown to hate the vague headings which say something like "Use this surprising method to improve your SEO". That, my friend, is a click-bait.
Eventually, it all comes down to the actual content of your blog post. Yes, heading is part of that content, but I mean the bread and butter. The text, as this what you are reading right now. That content is supposed to be readable, unique and of good quality. Unique is a bit difficult matter, especially when I don't believe anyone is exactly unique or any idea is exactly unique. The point is to make your blog post unique enough so that it's considered not to be duplicate content or copied from somewhere else. That means, using your own style of writing it and try to explore other sides than what you know have already been explored. I, for one, like to use my own experiences and thoughts as a viewpoint, from which some amount of uniqueness will grow.
Readability can be accomplished in many different ways. Currently, as many bloggers use grammar checkers, there's lots of very blunt writing out there. I don't say blunt is bad. It is usually easier to read, but ends up lacking personality. I'm a poet, not a grammar robot. Things like fonts, colours and their contrast, and text sizes also affect readability. Don't forget the effect of the structure of your blog posts. For many bloggers, a very popular way of writing and structuring is to use very short paragraphs, lots of subtitles, lists, emphasis and then some. I used to advocate for it myself.
I've since changed my mind. It's actually pretty bad for the flow of reading, when the text is constantly cut in one way or another. Good for skimming, yes. Bad for real reading. Short paragraphs or using one sentence as a paragraph are to be used sparingly. One or two of those in a post can make an interesting effect. More, especially in a row, and you are just being an annoying hack who can't write. In some cases using lots of subtitles, lists and such are great. However, if your content doesn't really need any of those, but you are using them just because, don't. A good advice I've gotten from writing scientific texts while studying is that usually having only one paragraph after a subtitle is considered bad form. Especially if your text is short, what's the point anyways?
Quality is not that easy either. Usually good quality means your text is not riddled with typos and horrible grammar errors. Knowing the difference between to and too is a great start. Trust me, I've seen people mixing them a lot. Of course, you aren't necessarily a professional in the language you are using in your blog. I'm not even native English speaker. My first language is Finnish, which is something very different. Sometimes I use English in a way I would use Finnish. So, don't sweat it if there are some typos and if your grammar is not perfect. Nobody is perfect.
The quality comes from how deeply you dig into your subject matter, how well you write it out, and how good your research is. Quality content is that what people want to read. Quality cannot be measured by the content length. You can make a very short post good in quality. Or you can make a long post, of a terrible quality. Don't aim for a certain word count. Aim for making a point. There's a thing called dwell time, which measures the length of the time a person stays on your blog before returning to the search results page. Dwell time appears to be a ranking factor, and if your content is good in quality, you will get longer dwell times. (Don't mix dwell time with the Bounce Rate in your Analytics. Those are two different things.)
Your content must be relevant to searches. That means, it must include the keywords or keyphrases that are being search. It also must be good for the people reading it. That's when they share it more in social media, give you more inbound links, and that's when they stay longer at reading your blog posts. Concentrate on making your blog post content good for people. That's how your blog post search ranking will improve.
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I'm Mervi Emilia Eskelinen, an artist and online presence strategist from Finland. I coach and consult indie businesses and bloggers to find focus with their branding, marketing and web. I have almost 20 years of experience, a bachelor's degree and some fun certifications in everything about digital media and marketing.