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How To Optimize A Blog Post Using WordPress and Yoast

large letter W, the icon used to represent WordPress

Contents

This article is a detailed guide for how to optimize a blog post using WordPress and Yoast, the popular WordPress SEO plugin by Joost de Valk. It assumes you have already determined what you want to write about, the post’s goals, the audience you are trying to reach, and how to make the post uniquely valuable. It assumes the post has already been written, and you are now ready to perform on-page optimization.

If you’re feeling lost already, I highly recommend SEO For Bloggers: How to Nail the Optimization Process For Your Posts by Rand Fishkin at Moz. It’s a 13-minute video presentation about the end-to-end blogging process as it pertains to SEO. I think a lot of people are surprised to learn that quickly publishing a bunch of run-of-the-mill blog posts doesn’t propel you to the top of search engine rankings. It is, unfortunately, a lot more complicated than that, largely driven by increased competition, more sophisticated and demanding audiences, and of course, Google.

This article is specifically aimed at bloggers and copywriters that aren’t familiar with on-page optimization and would like to learn how. It’s laid out in 12 steps.

It’s a long post. Grab a cup of your favorite beverage and get comfortable. There’s a best-practice checklist at the end you can use to speed up the process. Backlinko, a training hub for digital marketers, has an infographic that is a good tool and visual reminder of what needs to be done. You might want to keep it and the checklist handy until this becomes a natural, fluid process.

Step 1:  Open A New Post Template

Scan the left-hand WordPress Main Menu options. Find and click on Posts >> Add New post as shown below.

snapshot showing where to find "create new post" in WordPress

An empty blog posting screen (like the one shown below) opens next. Yours won’t look exactly the same as this because the name of your blog, where it is hosted, and the theme (template) and plugins (added features / functions) used to create your site will be different. That said, yours should still have a place to enter your post title (“Enter title here”) and body text (where you see the big red X below).

Skip entering your blog post title for now. We’ll come back to that in Step 3.

snapshot of the yoast plugin window you'll see when you add new post

Step 2:  Enter Post Body Text

Type (or cut and paste) your draft blog post content into the white space marked with a big red “X” shown above.

Depending on your theme, the text might not copy cleanly. You might see some extra spaces or weird-looking characters. Some themes allow you to cut and paste text directly from a word processing package with zero problems. Others have a special icon (like the black clipboard icon circled above in red) you can use to minimize cut and paste errors. If your content doesn’t paste cleanly, try clicking on that icon first. Otherwise you have to cut and paste it into a basic text editor like Microsoft Notepad first or clean it up manually. Usually it’s a matter of just getting rid of some extra spacing.

We’re not done with your post content yet. We’ll come back to it again in Step 7. For now, move onto Step 3.

Step 3:  Choose Keywords

Choosing keywords for your post is the most time consuming and impactful part of optimizing a blog post. It’s important to get it right.

keyword definition

Keywords are the words or phrases people type into a search engine when they’re trying to find something. In this step, we’re going to figure out what people are typing into Google when they are searching for content similar to your own. Once we know the terms your audience is searching for, we can incorporate them into your post so it becomes eligible to rank.

It’s an eleven-step process. We are going to:

  • narrow the focus of your post;
  • enter your post title;
  • gather keyword options;
  • assess the relevance, specificity, and search volume of options;
  • bring it all together with an example;
  • explain the need for uniqueness;
  • define an exact match and close variation;
  • tell you how to pick secondary keyword phrases; and
  • show you where to plug your choices into the WordPress for SEO Yoast plugin.

Step 3.1:  Narrow The Focus of Your Post

Google and other search engines like to see content that is clearly and singularly focused on one narrow and specific topic. Why? Because it makes it easier for them to figure out which posts are eligible to rank for what and to rank order the ones that are most relevant. It also helps readers who don’t want to waste time skimming results that aren’t going to give them what they want.

So the first thing you need to ask yourself is, “Is my blog topic narrow and specific enough“.

narrow the focus of your post

The way to answer that question is to look at your draft post title. Does it accurately summarize the scope and content of your post in one short sentence or phrase?

If it doesn’t, revise it. You can split the post into shorter, inter-related posts that will eventually cross-reference one another, or you can narrow it’s scope altogether and get rid of the stuff that’s not relevant.

If you’re not sure, don’t sweat it. Just keep moving. It will become obvious if your topic is too broad as we progress further along.

Step 3.2:  Enter Your Focus Keyword Phrase

Once you know the focus of your post, scroll down to the grey outlined box marked “Wordpress SEO by Yoast”. It looks something like this.

Wordpress For SEO Yoast Plugin - what the page or post meta data screen looks like.

Look for the field labeled “focus keyword”, shown roughly in the middle of image above with a red arrow. The “focus keyword” is the word or phrase you want your post or page to be found for when people are searching the Web.

We’re going to figure that out next.

Step 3.3  Gather Keyword Options

There are many different ways to do keyword research. For our purposes, we are going to use Google Suggest, a tool that lets you know what’s trending in search right now. To access the Google suggest tool, we’re going to have to step outside of WordPress and Yoast.

You are probably already familiar with Google Suggest as Google’s auto-complete function. If a you start typing a word or phrase into the Google search window, suggestions will start to pop up below. Suggestions are displayed in search volume order, meaning the ones closest to the top are searched for the most often. If no suggestions appear it means Google didn’t find anything or it has chosen not to share options with you. (It sometimes does that.) Roughly 16% of the queries Google sees on a daily basis are brand new, never been seen before, so those aren’t going to display.

You can access the Google Suggest tool by opening a new browser window and going to google.com. Type a 3-to-5-word phrase that best summarizes the topic of your blog post and see what pops up. In this example, I’ve typed “How to optimize a blog”.

example of how to use google suggest

If no suggestions display, try a different phrase or use what you’ve chosen as your draft and skip down to Step 3.11.

If you have multiple suggestions and need help deciding which to proceed forward with, continue below.

Step 3.4:  Assess Relevance

The most important consideration when picking a focus keyword phrase is relevance. It’s not the number of words in the phrase or whether it appears at the top, middle or bottom of the list of suggestions. It’s relevance.

Relevance ensures visitors find what they’re searching for. It increases the chance that visitors will read your post and spend more time on your site. All things being equal, the more time visitors spend on your site, the popular it’s perceived to be and the higher it will rank.

queue outside a starbucks indicating popularity

photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson via photopin cc

If, for example, your post is about lineups at Starbucks Coffee Shops, don’t pick the single word “lineups”, “starbucks” or “coffee” as your focus keyword “phrase”. All will likely appear closer to the top of your list of suggestions but none are as precise or relevant as the combination of the three. When suggestions pop up, pick the one that best reflects / mirrors your post content even if it doesn’t appear in Google’s list of suggestions after several tries. Relevance should always be your first and foremost consideration. People who visit your website and find something other than what they’re looking for will “bounce”. A bounce is when someone visits only one page of your website for a short time and then exits. High bounce rates count against you when they coincide with visitors having spent very little time on your site.

Step 3.5:  Assess Specificity

What if two phrases are similar and both “fit” your content?

The longer the phrase the better. When a searcher uses a long phrase, he or she has thought more deeply about what it is they are looking to find. They’ve probably already visited a few pages and are narrowing their choices. Those people are usually closer to making a buying a decision. They’re more likely to “convert” or do what you want them to do.

If two phrases are equally relevant, go with the one that is longest – the one with the most words.

Step 3.6:  Assess Search Volume

The final consideration is search volume.

Keyword suggestions are always displayed in descending order of search volume. The phrases closest to the top are the ones typed most frequently into Google’s search engine.  All things being equal (if you’re trying to decide between two focus keyword phrases that are very close or similar and have the same number of words in them), pick the one closest to the top because it will probably have the same or a higher number of searches per month than the one(s) below.

To show you what I mean, I took some suggestions from the example above (how to optimize a blog) and plugged them into a different keyword tool, Google’s (free to use) keyword tool, Google Planner. Google Keyword Planner gives you rough search volumes. Results are shown below.

snapshot of estimated search volumes for keywords

It’s fuzzy, but you can make out the average number of searches per month in the second column roughly in the middle of the page. As you can see, the options supplied are, in fact, displayed in descending order of search volume. If you’re trying to decide between two equally relevant keyword phrases, pick the one with the largest search volume.

Step 3.7: Bring It All Together

Using this post as an example, I chose to go with the phrase second from the top. “How to optimize a blog post”. It is relevant, specific and, of the options provided, most reflective of what I want to say.

Now it gets really interesting.

example of nested keywords

If we look back at the results found when I plugged our keyword options into the Google Planner tool, I want you to notice something. See how the words in the first option are entirely embedded within the second? “How to optimize a blog” is entirely embedded in “how to optimize a blog post“. That means because I chose to go with the second phrase, I’ll also be eligible to rank for the first. It also means that the total average number of monthly searches I’ll be eligible to rank for has likely gone up. You can’t just add the two search volume estimates together because your estimate will likely be too large, but in all likelihood, you’ll be eligible to rank for more search queries when one phrase is embedded in the other. So bottom line, go with the longer of two choices.

Step 3.8:  Assess Uniqueness

Before we move away from picking your target keyword phrase, there’s one more important consideration. Your focus keyword phrase should always be unique to your site, meaning it should only ever be used to optimize a single page or post on your website.

That means if you already have a page or post on your website that is optimized for your chosen keyword phrase, you should pick something else. Why? Because you’ll confuse Google about which page to rank higher and end up competing with yourself. There’s plenty enough competition without competing against yourself!

The easiest way to figure out if you’ve already optimized for your preferred keyword phrase is to save a quick DRAFT copy of your post (if you haven’t done that already) and scroll down to the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin window near the bottom of the page.

snapshot of the yoast plugin showing where you can see if your focus keyword phrase is unique to the site

Click on the page analysis tab at the top. Then scroll down to the bullet point second from the bottom. The bullet point or dot will be green, yellow, or red. If your focus keyword phrase is unique to the site it will be green. If it’s not or your proposed focus keyword phrase is an exact match or close variation to one that is already being used to optimize another page or post on your site, you should change it.

Step 3.9 Exact Matches and Close Variations

So what’s an exact match or a close variation?

  • An exact match is when the words, or a close variation of the words in your proposed target keyword phrase appear in the same sequence in the focus keyword phrase field of another page or post on your site with no extra spaces or missing or additional characters.
  • Close variations extend that definition to include misspellings, singular and plural forms, acronyms, stemmings (such as post and posting), abbreviations, and accents. If your chosen target keyword phrase uses the same words in a different order, or it includes an extra word or two in the middle of the phrase, it’s NOT an exact match and you’re good to go.

Examples of an exact match for the chosen focus keyword phrase above (how to optimize a blog post) include:

  • learn how to optimize optimize a blog post;
  • ways to optimize blog posts; and
  • how to optimize a blog article.

Examples of phrases that are NOT an exact match include:

  • how to optimize a blog (less specific);
  • how to optimize a WordPress blog (different topic);
  • how to optimize your first blog post (more specific);
  • how to optimize with WordPress and Yoast (different, broader topic); and
  • how to search engine optimize a blog post (also more specific).

Google has gotten very sophisticated in the last few years, and now pays less attention to the exact phrasing of search queries and focuses instead on search intent. All of the examples above have the same search intent so whether you have an exact match or semantic equivalent will likely make no difference if you have strong competition as evidence by their link profile. You used to be able to outrank the competition aiming for less used phrases. Not any more. With Google now focusing on search intent, slight word variations make less and less of a difference.

Step 3.10:  Choose Secondary Keyword Phrases

Before leaving your focus keyword options behind, scan remaining options and note any you think might naturally fit within your post content. Only pick phrases that are highly relevant and similar to your chosen keyword phrase. If they’re not, ignore them.

Why? Because Google considers related terms as part of its ranking process. If other posts on your chosen topic all talk about B, C, and D in addition to A, you should think about mentioning them in your post too.

I noted a couple of additional (secondary) keyword phrases that are relevant to this post with red check marks below. They are “how to optimize a blog post for SEO” and “how to optimize blog post images”.

I will tell you what to do with these in Step 7.

snapshot of focus keyword phrase options that I've highlighted for inclusion in my post text

Now we’re ready to plug our focus keyword phrase into the Yoast plugin.

Step 3.11: Put Your Focus Keyword Phrase Into The Plugin

Enter your preferred focus keyword phrase into the focus keyword field of the Yoast plugin. I’ve entered my chosen focus keyword phrase in the example shown below.

snapshot of yoast plugin showing where you enter your focus keyword phrase

We’re done with Step 3, choosing keywords.

Step 4: Specify a SEO Title

Now that you have a focus keyword, it’s time to pick an SEO title. Your SEO title is the single most important thing you can manipulate to help boost your rankings. Your SEO title displays in search results and is your first opportunity to try and grab the attention of your audience.

Deciding on an SEO title is a 4-step process. Your SEO title needs to:

  • accurately reflect your post content;
  • use your focus keyword phrase;
  • be compelling; and
  • use between 40 and 60 characters not exceeding (currently) 600 pixels in length.

Step 4.1: Reflect Your Post Content

Just like with your focus keyword phrase, your SEO title needs to accurately reflect your post content because it sets expectations with your readers and you don’t want to disappoint them.

Your SEO title is what gets displayed in search results. Here are examples of what shows up in search results when I search for “how to optimimize a blog post”.

snapshot of the how-to-optimize search results on Google

I’ve outlined in red the content of the SEO title field for the first two search results. Both contain “how to optimize a blog post” or a close derivative. If I click on either one, that’s what I expect to learn more about.

Relevance is paramount. Pick an SEO title that accurately reflects the main message in your post.

Step 4.2: Use Your Focus Keyword Phrase

Your SEO title needs to incorporate your focus keyword phrase.

Searchers scan results; they don’t read them. When they scan, they’re looking for search results containing their search terms. If your SEO title contains the same words as in a search query, Google will highlight them in search results helping them to stand out from all the others. (Notice above how the words “blog”, “optimize” and “post” are bolded in the URLs displayed in search results.) Searchers notice and pay a little closer attention.

Step 4.3: Be Compelling

To draw them in even further, your SEO title should be compelling. Ninety-two percent of searchers are going to click on a page one search result. If your SEO title contains the terms someone is searching for, you’ll get their attention, but you’ll also want to draw them in even further. You want to compel them to click.

If you need help coming up with a clickable post title, please visit my Copywriting Tools and Techniques Pinterest page for helpful tips, tricks, tools, and suggestions.

snap of my copywriting pinterest page

Step 4.4: Be Succinct

The final criteria you need to satisfy with your SEO title has to do with length. Your SEO title should be approximately 40-60 characters in length and not more than 600 pixels including spaces and special characters. If it’s less than that, it won’t be meaningful or compelling. If it’s more than that, it will get truncated in search results and possibly dilute the SEO value of your focus keyword phrase.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule. It’s a guideline, suggestion. Sometimes you won’t be able to fit within those parameters, but do your best.

The search results we talked about earlier are shown again below. I want you to notice something about the second SEO title.

snapshot of search results showing ellipsis

The SEO title for the second result is truncated. The ellipsis you see circled in red (above) is what Google inserts in search results when the 600 pixel limit for an SEO title tag is exceeded. The SEO title in this example exceeded 600 pixels and the words “blog posts” were cut off from the end.

If you want to see if your title fits within the 600 pixel guideline, Moz has a tool you can use to plug your proposed title and preview how it will be displayed in Google search results. You won’t be penalized if it doesn’t, but you should try to stick within the guidelines and at least make sure your targeted keyword phrase isn’t truncated.

The focus keyword phrase for this post is the same as in our example – “how to optimize a blog post”. It contains 27 characters including spaces. Although it’s a great focus keyword, it’s too short and not specific or compelling enough to be our SEO title. I’m going to add the words “using WordPress and Yoast” to the end for a total of 53 characters and make that my post title.

I also plugged the title into the Moz tool referenced above so I could see whether it fit within the 600 pixel guideline. Given it was 53 characters, I didn’t really need to do that but wanted to show you an example.

example of the moz tag preview tool

If I had exceeded the 600 pixel limit, an ellipsis would have been displayed at the end of my title in the white window below “Cutts Me, Google!”. It is not, so I’m good.

Step 4.5: Put Your SEO Title Into The Yoast Plugin

Now you need to put your SEO title into the Yoast plugin. I’ve shown you an example by plugging my new SEO title into the SEO title field of the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin below.

snapshot showing where i've populated the seo title into the yoast plugin

Step 5:  Specify Your Post Title

The next step is to specify your post (vs SEO) title. We skipped doing that back in Step 2.

Your post title is not the same as your SEO title. Your SEO title gets displayed in search results. Your Post Title gets displayed as the main heading at the top of your blog post when someone visits your website. It’s usually the first or second thing a visitor sees when he or she lands on the page. My post title is shown below, right below the site logo and adjacent the post publication date (Jan 23).

snap of my post title

Your post title should also contain your focus keyword phrase so it reassures visitors the post is relevant. Also remember if a visitor arrives on the page by clicking on a search result, he or she will want to be reassured they’ve made the right decision to click on your search results. The best way to avoid disappointment or confusion, is to make your post title the same or very similar to what you’ve used as your SEO title. The difference is you’ve got a bit more room to play with the title length.

The SEO title field strongly encourages you to say within the 60 character, 600 pixel limit. It’s restricting. You can afford to be more wordy and embellish your blog post title so long as you stay on topic and use your focus keyword phrase. It can come in handy. If you prefer to just stick with the same title as you used in the SEO title field, that’s fine too. It’s up to you.

Once you decide, it’s time to go back up to the top of your blog post and enter your blog post title into the field we skipped way back in Step 1, the one that contains the words “Enter title here”.

snap showing where you are supposed to enter your blog post title

In my example, I didn’t feel the need to elongate the blog post title. It’s exactly the same as my SEO title.

Step 6:  Specify Your Post Permalink

The next step is to incorporate your focus keyword phrase into your post’s permalink or URL.

permalink definition Just like your home or office has a unique postal address, so your blog post has a unique address or permalink – permanent URLs (uniform resource locator). Permalinks display in search results (below the SEO title) and influence your post’s ranking. Your post permalink needs to be unique and contain your focus keyword phrase.

You can see an example of what I have done for this post below. The permalink is shown in the red box (https://www.b-seenontop.com/seo-blog/how-to-optimize-blog-post-using-wordpress-yoast).

example of where to enter your post permalink

The easiest thing to do here is cut and paste your SEO title into the permalink field. Make it all lower-case with hyphens (-) versus underscores (_). Get rid of any stop words, words like “a” and “the”. They have no influence on your rankings, Google ignores them, and they unnecessarily lengthen your post URL. If Yoast has been properly configured for SEO, stop words will be removed for you.

Don’t be excessively wordy in your URL. Shorter URLs are easier to remember, cut and paste, and reference when people are linking to you. Best practice is to keep it under 115 characters, if possible.

Step 7:  Incorporate Keywords Into Post Body Text

Now it’s time to incorporate your focus (primary) and secondary keyword phrases in the post body text. For that, we need to go back to the “Add New Post” form we showed you back in Step 1. If you recall, we simply cut and paste our post body text and moved onto the next step. Now it’s time to edit it.

For short posts (posts with 600 words or less), try to incorporate your focus (or primary) keyword phrase in headings and two to three times in the post body text. Ideally, you’ll use it once or twice in headings, once in the first paragraph of the post, once in the middle, and once again at the end. For longer posts, aim to use it five to six times in the post body. There is no exact number of times a keyword phrase should be used in a blog post. Nor is there any ideal keyword density. Do what makes sense for your readers. Don’t force it. 

definition of keyword density from wikipedia

Keyword density is NOT a ranking factor. What you really need to be concerned about is ensuring you are using the keywords naturally and in places Google expects to see them (like title tags, descriptions, and headings). Let go of worrying about keyword density.

As you can see in the example below, I’ve managed to use my focus keyword phrase in the post title and the first sentence of the post body text. I’ve used it a total of 12 times in this post. 12 sounds like a lot, but it reads naturally so that’s not a problem.

example of where the focus keyword phrase has been used in the first sentence of a post

Before we leave this step, you should try to incorporate secondary keyword phrases into your post content. Also use them where ever they naturally fit into your post body text. Try to use each of them at least once. If they don’t fit, don’t force them.

Step 8: Create a Post Meta Description

A meta description is a short synopsis of your post content. It has no role or influence when it comes to rankings. Google says it ignores them. (I’m not sure I believe that, especially when it comes to noncompetitive keyword phrases, but that’s what Google says.)

Meta descriptions are however, extremely important when it comes to convincing people to click through to your site. Meta descriptions are displayed in search results and your best opportunity to draw readers in.

The meta description for one of the search results for “how to optimize a blog post” is shown below as an example.

snapshot of sample meta description content

An ideal meta description:

  • uses your focus keyword phrase;
  • is relevant and convincing;
  • is 150-160 characters; and
  • doesn’t employ quotes (“).

Steps 8.1 thru 8.4 will expand on those points individually.

Step 8.1 Use Your Focus Keyword Phrase

You should try to use your focus keyword phrase in your meta description tag.

Just like with title tags and permalinks, if the words in your meta description match the words in the search query, Google will highlight them in bold so they stand out in search results. Notice how the words “blog posts” and “optimize” are bolded in the description shown above? Using your focus keyword phrase in your meta description highlights its relevance and makes it stand out in search results.

If you’re having trouble fitting your keyword phrase in without it sounding forced or unnatural, remember that your focus keyword phrase may be a bit shorter than your SEO or blog post title. In our example, the focus keyword phrase is “how to optimize a blog post” NOT “how to optimize a blog post using WordPress and Yoast“.

You should also know that Google doesn’t always display the content of your meta description in search results. Sometimes, especially when your meta description tag does not match the search query or it’s excessively short, Google extracts what it wants from your post and displays that instead. You have no ability to control what Google chooses to display in search results, but if you use your focus keyword and provide a decent length description, it increases the chances that you’ll remain in control.

Step 8.2: Be Short and Convincing

Meta descriptions are your opportunity to let searchers know what to expect when they land on your site. You have a bit more room to maneuver than you had with the SEO title field because you have roughly 150-160 versus 60 characters to work with, including spaces and special characters. If your description is longer than that, you’ll run into the same problem we did with SEO titles – they’ll be truncated.

You can use the same tool we used to test our SEO title to see whether or not your proposed meta description will get truncated.

Remember that roughly 92% of searchers click on a page one search result. You want your meta description to stand out. Hubspot has a good post on ways you can try to be enticing with meta descriptions.

Step 8.3 Don’t Use Quotes

One final warning. You should NOT use quotes in your meta description. They force truncation. Instead of seeing ‘Get detailed, step-by-step instructions for “how to optimize a blog post” using WordPress and Yoast’ displayed in search results, you’ll see “Get detailed, step-by-step instructions for”. The words after the first quote will be truncated.

Step 8.4 Populate the Meta Description Field in Yoast

Once you’ve decided on the content of your meta description tag, populate it in the meta description field on the WordPress for SEO plugin as shown below.

sample meta description for our how-to post

Step 9: Add and Optimize Images

Step 9.1: Pick Images

Now we need to add some visual enticement. Images increase reader enjoyment and encourage repeat visits, more time on site, page views, comments, and sharing.

When deciding on which images to use, the most important consideration is ensuring you have permission. Free does NOT mean free to use.

Lots of people think that because creative content appears on the Internet it’s free to use. That’s often not the case. Macworld wrote an article back in June 2014 that does an excellent job explaining the rules for using photos from the Internet and images on blogs.

snapshot of macworld article

You need to either create your own images or find ones you have permission to use. The best place to start is with the above article. After that, I recommend you visit my Pinterest board labeled “Blog Post Image Sources” for other possible sources of free and permission-to-use photos and images.

snap of the Pinterest board containing source of free and permission to use photos and images

You can also buy stock images, just be aware if you’re on a limited budget it can grow to be expensive quickly. That said, the best paid sources for photos (in my opinion) are Getty, Istock Images, and Fotolia. Lesser price (and quality) image options can be found on that Pinterest board.

Step 9.2: Populate Alt Tags

Let’s use the image above as an example of how to optimize blog post images. I’m not going to explain how to upload images. Select an image already embedded into your post by clicking on it. You should see an edit box appear, like the one shown below. Click on the red-circled pen icon.

example of the tag images selection box

Enter a description of your image in the alt tag field as shown below.

example of where to specify your alt tag

The description you enter needs to do two things. It needs to contain your focus keyword phrase and it needs to be descriptive of the image. Blind and visually impaired readers have the option of using software to read aloud the content of alt tags. Don’t just selfishly plug in keywords. Make sure you provide an accurate description of the image at the same time.

Only put your focus keyword phrase in one image alt tag per post or it could be perceived by Google as “stuffing” – trying to “game the system”. Cramming extra keywords into your post or image alt tags with the vague hope that it will boost your rankings usually doesn’t work anyway. In the old days, when there was very little competition, it might have. Nowadays it’s more likely to harm you. Just use your focus keyword phrase on one image in the post. That’s enough. Other images should contain straight descriptive text. I also find it helpful to note image sources just in case someone approaches you with a concern that your images are not permissioned.

The content of your alt tag is also used as the image description when posted on some social media sites like Pinterest. Many people just accept the description suggested so be aware of this. You might want to include your post name and/or website.

You can specify your alt tag content when you upload image files for the first time or you can edit it like we did in the example above. Editing it in your posts is handy in that you can reuse an image multiple times with different alt tags and focus keywords.

Step 9.3: Link to Image

Below where you specify your alt tag, there’s an additional field labeled “link to”. This is where you specify what you want to happen if someone clicks on an image in your blog post. If the image contains helpful details, I click on “media file” otherwise I select “none”. If you choose “media file”, the image will enlarge when clicked.

example showing where you specify your image location

Step 9.4: Create A Caption (Optional)

The caption field is used for entering text you want to display below the image on the page. I don’t recommend using keywords here, but complementary, similar or related phrases help if they also help your readers.

This is also the best place to credit image authors if you’re using an image that requires attribution like the one I used in sections 3.4 and 8.1. You might also want to type “Click to Enlarge” here if you’ve linked to the media file.

Step 10: Categorize and Tag Post

Step 10.1: Pick Post Categories and Tags

We’re close to the end now!

I’m going to assume you’ve already established a groundwork of blog categories and tags for your site. If you haven’t, please take a quick look at my How To Pick Blog Categories and Tags post.

(Side Note: See how I took the opportunity to cross-link to a related post on my site? That’s the benefit of step 3.1 – narrowing the focus of your post. It creates cross-linking opportunities which really help boost your rankings when your post is published on an external site.)

Categories and tags are for your visitors.

  • They help visitors discern the nature and extent of your blog. Categories are like the table of contents in a book. Tags are like an index.
  • They make it quick and easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for. Visitors can see posts grouped by category or tag simply with the click of a mouse. If I’m interested in blogging, for example, I can click on the “blogging” tag to the right of this post and see everything else I’ve written that has also been tagged with “blogging”.
  • Categories and tags help extend site visit time. The more time visitors spend on your site, the more popular you’re perceived to be and the higher you will rank.

Unless… unless categories and tags are misused or applied thoughtlessly.

snapshot showing someone who's gone overboard with tagging

Too often people go overboard when they categorize and tag posts. That, or they don’t think it through and end up with too many and/or overlapping and confusing choices for site visitors (like shown above). When that happens, you slow down rather than speed up the process of visitors being able to find what they want and they bounce. There are tons of other options on the Internet, easier to use.

In the example above, can you differentiate between the tags: blog, blogging, blogging advice and blogging tips? I can’t. They all seem very similar to me. Do you think you’ll find the same or different content in each of those categories? I don’t know because I’d have to click on all four tags to find out and I (and probably many other visitors) couldn’t be bothered to check.

Make sure your categories and tags are clearly differentiated. Don’t frustrate your audience by making them have to navigate to multiple pages of your site in order to find what they’re looking for. Most won’t. sample display of wordpress categories and tags

Step 10.2: Enter Post Blog Categories and Tags

Now you need to categorize and tag your post.

Look to the right of where you’re editing your post. You should see two boxes that look similar to what you see on the right, one marked “Categories”, the other “Tags”. If you don’t, those options can easily be added by you or your website developer.

Check off the single most appropriate category for your post. Click on “choose from the most used tags” and select the ones that pertain to your post.

Step 10.3: Set Canonical Tag

There’s duplicate content all over the web. If you want to syndicate your content on other sites and make sure you don’t get penalized for it by Google, a canonical tag is the way to go.

A canonical tag is a piece of code that sits behind a page or post and tells Google “If you find others like me, I’m the original. Give me credit.” Best practice is to tag every single one of your posts with a canonical tag that states “I’m the original”. The place to do that is on the advanced tab of the Yoast SEO plugin as shown below.

example showing where you enter your canonical tag

Leave this field blank and the canonical URL will default to the current page or post. If you are republishing an existing post from an external blog and have been given permission to do so, this is where you would plug in the URL of the original post.

Step 10.4: Set Social Tags

One of the whole points of blogging is to gain exposure. You want your content to get shared on social media and you want to maximize its impact when it is shared.

You can use WordPress to automatically publish your post on your website and social media channels at the same time. I’ll not explain how to do that here, but the cool thing about Yoast is you can customize what gets shared on the bigger social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. If, for example, you’ve quoted someone who has a lot of influence on Twitter, you can include his or her twitter handle in the post description so they’ll notice. You can also include hashtags.

If you do nothing, the default Yoast title tag and meta description will be used when your post is shared. To customize the title and/or description, navigate to the social tab of the Yoast plugin as shown below. Enter the custom titles and descriptions you want published on Twitter and/or Facebook.

snapshot of the social tab on the yoast plugin

Step 10.5: Noindex Thin Content

Google has a strong aversion to “thin content”. Thin content includes posts that are:

  • short (less than 300 words);
  • unoriginal (duplicate, scraped, stolen or paraphrased);
  • manipulative or cookie-cutter;
  • keyword-stuffed;
  • lacking in substance; and
  • auto-generated.

If your post satisfies any of the above criteria, you could be penalized by Google.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to publish thin content. You might have a quick tip you want to share with your audience. You might have been given permission to republish content so long as it is “noindexed”. When this happens, you can tag the post as “no index”.

example of where to set the noindex tag

Go to the advanced tab of the WordPress SEO Yoast plugin. The first option at the top is the “Meta Robots Index” drop-down selection box as shown above. Click on the button and select noindex.

Don’t worry if you have a small number of shorter (<300 word) posts. Google tends to only penalize sites that use short posts on a routine basis. The odd one won’t hurt you.

Step 10.6: Set Featured Image

Specify the featured image for your post, the image that typically appears on your main blog, category and tag pages. You can only pick one. The place to do that is shown below. It usually appears on the right-hand side of the page below where you pick your categories and tags.

snapshot showing where you set your featured image

Step 11: Specify The Post Author

Now we need to tell Google who the author of the post is. This is particularly important if your blog has multiple authors. If you’re a single author blog, you can skip this step. All posts will be automatically attributed to you.

Before we do that though, save a draft of your post.

Then go to the main menu on the left and select “Posts”.

display of where quick edit appears in WordPress

Hover your mouse under the name of the post you’re working on. You’ll see a couple of additional options pop-up. Select “Quick Edit” as shown above.

snap of the place in WordPress where you specify a page or post author

A new form opens up and the place where you can specify the post author is shown above. Make your selection and click update.

Step 12: Final Checkpoints and a Caveat

Step 12.1: Final Checkpoints

Navigate to the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin window one more time and check the five bullet points underneath the focus keyword field as shown below.

snap showing the five bullet points you should check before hitting publish on your new optimized blog post

Ideally, all findings will be “yes” and green. The number of times your focus keyword phrase appears in the post text should be 2-3 for short posts (under 600 words) and 4-5 for longer ones. Those are rough guidelines. So long as your content reads naturally and the insertion of keywords does not sound forced, you can use it as much (or as little) as you’d like. Sticking to the guidelines does however, help increase your chances of ranking higher than the competition. It’s not the only ranking factor, but it helps.

If you have stop words in your post URL and you removed them, the third bullet down (page URL) will be No and red. That’s okay. It’s expected.

It’s not imperative that the others all be green either. What’s most important is that your post is well written, free of spelling and grammar errors, easily to scan (with lots of white space, headings, and visuals), and most of all – helpful to your intended audience.

Step 12.2: A Caveat

I want to set expectations.

To rank well, your post has to do three things. It has to be:

  • found and indexed by search engines;
  • relevant, engaging, and helpful to your searching audience; and
  • measurably popular and authoritative, relative to the competition.

What you just did was help ensure your blog post would be found and properly understood when it gets indexed by Google. We haven’t addressed the other two. That means your post still might not rank well in search results. A lot depends on how well competing posts satisfy the above criteria.

A Checklist

We’re done.

Because it’s a lengthy process, I’ve created a PDF and Excel checklist (shown below) you can use to keep track of your progress. You can download a PDF version of the spreadsheet here. It is a mix of on-page optimization and SEO copywriting tips that can be used as a final checklist before publication.

How to Optimize a Blog Post Using WordPress and Yoast Checklist screen shot.

If you liked this post, please consider sharing it with friends and/or colleagues that might also find it helpful. If you have comments, suggestions, questions or feedback, I’d appreciate it if you’d write them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you promptly.

Thanks for sticking with me to the end!!

Author: Donna Duncan (37 Posts)

I help small to mid-sized businesses & web design firms leverage SEO and content marketing to achieve their Internet goals. I offer self-service coaching, advice, and services.


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