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Everything You Need to Know

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Everything You Need to Know


Blog writing is a content marketing format that started as an online diary, and has since gained traction and found its way into business websites. It is one of the more accessible formats of content marketing, the strategic approach which aims to provide relevant and valuable information to one’s audiences and build a relationship with them.

According to OptinMonster, 77% of internet users read blogs. If you don’t know where to start and how, this comprehensive guide is for you.

    1. How does blog writing help with SEO?
    2. Why you should prioritize evergreen content
    3. Do publish dates affect rankings?
    4. How to generate blog topics
    5. How to set up for blog writing
    6. How to write a blog post
    7. How to optimize your blog
    8. How to apply a how-to schema on your blog posts
    9. How to update and enhance old blog posts
    10. Key takeaway

How does blog writing help with SEO?

Think of it this way—when your target audience asks a question related to your niche, you would want to be the one answering the question, right? You can’t answer their questions when you don’t include a means in your website to answer them.

That’s what blog writing does for you. It gives relevant and useful answers to your target audience. And if you’re answering those questions well, the search engines have more reason to index your site and put you at the forefront of the SERPs.

Hence, according to Tech Jury, sites that produce blogs have 434% more indexed pages than sites that don’t. That means these sites generate more traffic, potentially generating more leads and revenue as well.

Companies that have blogs also get 97% more backlinks than other company websites, meaning they also get promoted through other people’s content because they took the time and energy to provide value and answer their target user’s questions.

Why you should prioritize evergreen content

SEO-Hacker.com went live for the first time in April 2010—which means it’s been almost 12 years and I’m proud to say that we’re still going strong. Every year, our website traffic grows because most of our old articles are consistently generating us traffic as we produce more fresh content.

The secret behind this is age-old SEO advice: evergreen content. And even though publishing evergreen content is such a classic SEO and marketing strategy, I assure you that it works up to this day.

Don’t believe me? Check out the top 10 pages from January 10, 2021 to January 10, 2022 according to Google Analytics:

Google Analytics for Blog Writing

Most of the articles listed there were published a few years back and yet they are the ones that garner the most traffic even up to this date.

That is the power of evergreen content. It’s a strategy I’ve used for my own websites and I’ve used it to make our clients’ website successful as well.

What is evergreen content

Evergreen content is a piece of content about a topic that is still relevant even after a long time regardless of year, season, or trends. Compared to news articles and writing about trending topics, evergreen content will consistently bring your website traffic over time because there are people always searching about it.

Evergreen content is such a crucial SEO strategy because it keeps your audience engaged and gives your website continuity. It should definitely be the backbone of your SEO strategy as the gains are far greater than the costs.

What evergreen content brings to the table

Long-term gains

Think of evergreen content like an investment. When you initially publish an article that is evergreen, you may not get traction immediately in your article. But as you rank higher, you would notice that traffic will increase slowly

If we compare evergreen content to news and other trending topics, you would see that as time goes by, evergreen content can still generate traffic while news and hot topics will fall off a lot faster.

Here’s an example. I wrote an article a few years ago about the easiest way to apply aggregate rating schema. Years later after its publishing, it is consistently getting traffic and is even my top article for the past year.

easiest way to apply aggregate schema

Let’s compare it to a news article I published two years ago. I wrote about Google’s announcement of the June 2019 algorithm update. After publishing the article, its traffic spiked up and immediately died down after a month.

June 2019 algorithm update

That is why it’s important to focus on evergreen content in blog writing. And as you add more evergreen content on your website, you will be able to see that your traffic increases and is on an upward trajectory.

Take note that while it does seem that publishing evergreen content is a far better use of your time than publishing news doesn’t mean you should put 100% of your focus on it. Writing about recent events and trending topics is a different strategy on its own and it does have benefits as well so make sure you have a good mix of both.

Attracts backlinks

As your content rank and get traffic, there is a high chance of it getting backlinks without you having to work too hard for it. Of course, when you publish an article, you would have to do a little link building to make it rank. But once it does and your content gains consistent traffic, you would notice that your article is getting backlinks without you proactively doing anything.

Check out the backlinks of my YouTube SEO article.

YouTube SEO backlinks

I published this article about seven years ago, did a little link building, was able to get on the first page, and there you go. Years later, it’s still getting backlinks on its own.

This is because people find my blog writing as a good resource and if they write an article about YouTube SEO as well, people usually link back to it. This can be applied in any niche. Since evergreen topics usually target high-volume keywords, ranking for them on the first page may let people see you as an authority which brings me to my next point…

Evergreen content is good for E-A-T

It goes without saying that as you get more backlinks, your website’s authority increases. But this isn’t just about PageRank, evergreen content is also great for E-A-T.

Google quality raters measure the E-A-T of a website using various criteria but the content of a website is definitely one of the main things that they check. If you publish evergreen content that is well-written and well-researched, it is a great sign of expertise, authority, and trust. It gives you more credibility and it is also great for your brand.

Sample evergreen content you may consider

How-to guides and tutorials

  • How to fix blue screen of death
  • How to properly clean your car
  • How to cook fried chicken

Informative articles

  • Best ways to lose weight
  • Money-saving tips
  • Resume writing tips

In-depth guides

  • Everything you need to know about diabetes
  • In-depth guide on dog training
  • Complete guide to link building

Important tip: Update your evergreen content

Although the content you published is evergreen, it doesn’t mean that new information is not going to be available in the future. That is why it is also important to go back to the evergreen content that you publish and update the information in them if applicable. It is also a good practice that when you update a piece of old content, your website should properly label it with the date it was last updated.

Reminder: Take note of the difficulty

One of the biggest hurdles in being successful with evergreen content is that topics and keywords tend to have high difficulty.

If you are just starting out, the best advice that I could give you is to stick to your niche and try to find low-hanging fruits. Regardless of the volume of traffic that it brings, as long as it is consistent, it’s already a win.

Do publish dates affect rankings?

Every day, millions of people are looking for fresh content on Google. For us SEOs, this means that when we publish content can be as important as what content we publish.

We’ve already tackled what kind of content we should be focusing on; now, let’s focus on the when.

Do dates on your blog posts affect rankings?

To simply answer the question, yes, publishing dates may affect rankings. When a user performs a search, Google will try to provide the most relevant and recent search results. These are especially true for news, recent events, and other trending topics.

Let’s say you Googled “best smartphone 2022.” It wouldn’t be right for Google to serve you a search result written in 2019 or 2018. Let’s look at the search results. The top stories for the keyword “best smartphone 2022” was published two days ago as of writing:

best smartphone 2022

The next couple of results were published five days ago and more. Some of these articles were published last December, but because they still answer my question, Google saw them to be relevant enough to put in the first page of the SERPs.

best smartphone 2022 SERPs

To further explain how dates affect rankings, Google released an algorithm update way back in 2011 called “Google Freshness Update.” The update aimed to improve Google’s algorithm called Query Deserves Freshness or “QDF” which identifies if a user is looking for up-to-date articles or not.

Now that Google improved its system of identifying if a user is searching for the most recent content, articles that talked about recent news and events were highly impacted by the time and dates they were published.

But what does this mean for months and year old content?

At that time, the algorithm update affected about 35% of search results according to Google. This means old content is still useful and relevant. Remember that Google will only serve a user content that was recently published if it is applicable to their query.

So let’s say you have a website that talks about cars. If you have articles about how to take care of cars that are well-written even though they were written several years ago, Google may still serve your content to users. That is why evergreen content, as mentioned earlier, is extremely important to your website.

Google’s guidelines on dates

Have you noticed that there are times Google shows the date an article was published in the search results and sometimes it doesn’t?

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According to Google’s guidelines, Google will choose to show the publishing date of an article if it is useful for the user, especially for news. So how does Google find out when an article was published?

Google uses multiple ways. Here’s what they say on their guidelines:

“Google doesn’t depend on a single dating factor because all factors can be prone to issues. That’s why our systems look at several factors to determine our best estimate of when a page was published or significantly updated.”

How does Google identify publishing dates

The visible date on time on the page

There are two types of dates you can show on your articles: the exact publishing date or the date the article was last updated.

According to the guidelines, the dates should be clearly visible to the users and should be properly labeled such as:

  • Published: January 11, 2022
  • Last Updated: January 11, 2022

Check out this example. I wrote this article back in 2010 and I recently updated it.

how to build backlinks to your website

Structured data

Google can use structured data on your articles if you have any subtype of CreativeWork schema implemented such as Article and BlogPosting schema. It will use the datePublished or dateModified in the markup.

XML Sitemap

Your XML sitemap should also include the publishing or last updated dates for your articles. It should look like this:

xml sitemap

Note: According to the Guidelines, the publishing date is required and the time is not.

When should you change the publishing dates on your blog posts?

In my opinion, the only time you should be changing the dates on your blog posts is when you make noticeable changes in existing articles. Maybe there is new data on surveys you cited or you have updates on your case studies.

And when you do make changes make sure that you label it properly as “updated” not published again. This is a big thing for users as it is a sign that they can trust that you provide up-to-date information.

How about completely removing the dates from blog posts?

Some websites remove the dates from their articles to show that their content is evergreen. Although it may look suspicious, some studies have shown that it can have a positive impact.

Check out these case studies by ShoutMeLoud and UFO.

Remember: Blog post dates is for user experience

When implementing publishing dates on your blog posts or changing the dates to when an article was last updated, keep in mind that you are doing this for the user. I would also say that if you have evergreen content, it might not be necessary to update them at all. Some topics may have a higher click-through rate if dates are visible, while in some topics, age may give you more credibility. I would recommend testing it out and finding what works for your niche.

How to generate blog topics

Content is king. There’s no doubt about that, but there are challenges when you have to continuously publish content regularly—you’ll run out of topics to write about. This is a challenge most bloggers, content marketers, and even SEOs will face at some point in their careers.

Since the web is filled with competitors, there’s a high chance that a good number of them can produce content faster and more frequently than you. Knowing that, how do you reach a level where producing a topic that your readers will surely love can be achieved in the fastest time possible? Let’s find out.

Tools aren’t your best friend

If you’ve been in the industry for a considerable amount of time, you might have come across some tools or products that market themselves as the only tool you’ll ever need when generating and researching topics. You’ve probably tried out some of them as I have and you’ll quickly realize that they’re only effective at the start. As time goes by, you’ll not only realize that it’s not helping you generate topics anymore but they’re not even giving you the inspiration you need to come up with a topic on your own. All of these are especially true when you’re writing about a niche topic or industry.

So what exactly should you do?

Write about topics that people actually read

All of the experts in content marketing, blogging, and SEO will always tell you to research your audience. This is true. Understanding what your audience likes is the first step to generating a topic that will gain traction.

If you’re only beginning to write about a certain topic or niche, chances are, you won’t have data to use. The best way to mitigate this is to empathize with your audience and try to find out why they’re looking for your specific topic or industry.

  • Are they just curious?
  • Do they specifically need something in your topic or industry?
  • What problems would lead them to find your blog/business?

All of these questions lead to just one goal: Deepening your understanding of the audience that you’ll be writing for.

What I’ve mentioned will still hold true for experienced, veteran writers but their advantage is that they have the data to further refine their understanding of their audience. I was blog writing even before I started SEO and haven’t stopped since. So, I’ve had my fair share of writer’s block and inability to generate topics that I can write about. But one helpful strategy I’ve learned is to use Google Analytics and check to see which of my past blog posts do my audience frequently visit.

GA blog writing results

In the screenshot above, it shows me the top 10 pages that the SEO Hacker blog visitors showed the most interest in. We can safely eliminate the homepage, then by checking the topics that gained the most views, I can conclude that these are the kinds of topics that my visitors are looking into. So, I can branch out and generate topics that are related to the top 10 posts.

This is one great way to quickly come up with topics that you can write about. Not only does this help save you time and energy, but it also improves the chances of your audience actually reading the content you’ve written since they already showed interest in another related piece.

Keywords

Quickly generating your blog topics isn’t enough since you need to make it more accessible and searchable for users that might be interested in the topic you’re writing about. It’s important for you to engage in blog writing for your current audience, but tapping possible audiences to increase your reader count is just as important. So, it’s your job to make the topics you write about to be more accessible and searchable for potential audiences. How do you do that?

Research the keywords you will be targeting.

There are a variety of tools available in the market for you to use to research keywords like Semrush.

semrush

You can use this tool to find the best possible keywords that perfectly fit into your content, but there is a limit to how accurate and reliable the numbers shown in keyword research tools are. At the end of the day, you also have to have empathy for your audience and experience in the search industry.

I’ve had countless experiences where I’ve targeted keywords that didn’t have enough numbers shown in keyword research tools—but I know, based on my understanding of the audience and user search behavior—that it’s a “search-worthy” keyword.

It’s important to have a balance between the topic you’ve generated with the keyword you want to target. A good balance enables you to write for humans and for search engines.

How to set up for blog writing

Now that you know what kind of content you want to write about, it’s time to set up your blog.

You will need three things:

  1. A domain name
  2. Web hosting
  3. Blogging software

Domain name

The first thing you should do is think about what you want your website to be called. My first blog was called God and You, where I wrote about my reflections as a Christian and how God impacted my life. At some point, that blog was subsumed under my personal website, sean.si.

The domain name of this website is called seo-hacker.com because that is my company’s name. I have another website called leadershipstack.com for my podcast titled—you guessed it—Leadership Stack.

When you pick your own domain name, you can choose your own name, your business name, or something that describes concisely what your audience can expect to see on your website.

Web hosting

As I’ve written in my web hosting provider post, “Web hosting is a service that lets people and businesses have their website be accessible on the world wide web.”

Basically, imagine that you want to give your address to a friend so they can visit you sometime. Before you can do that, you need the land first on which your house is built. Web hosting is the land that enables you to have your house.

It’s important that you choose your web hosting provider carefully, as web hosting plays an integral part in the success of your blog. If it’s faulty, then it would really cause a lot of headaches as it could lead to unwanted crashes and other issues.

Arguably the best web hosting provider I ever tested was Liquid Web. It’s a fully managed hosting service, meaning after you pay for their service, they pretty much take care of everything and you don’t need to worry about having to DIY anything else.

Blogging software

Lastly, you’ll need a blogging software. It’s no secret that we at SEO Hacker are huge fans of WordPress; in fact, it’s what we use!

wordpress for blog writing

The good thing about picking a CMS like WordPress is that you can build your website without having to interact with code. It’s great if you’re the type of person who wants to build your website and just blog, but you either don’t know the technical aspects of building a website, or you don’t really want to go in depth on those parts even if you know how.

In fact, if you check the comments in the WordPress blog that I linked above, you’ll see that there are people saying that it’s beginner friendly and that they didn’t look back once they picked WordPress.

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You can start using WordPress here.

How to write a blog post

Now that you have set up your blog, it’s time to start writing.

When you finally engage in actual blog writing, you want to ensure that your final product is well-researched and well-written. After you’ve done your keyword research and generated your topic, make sure you include the following in your writing:

Sources and statistics

Remember, when you’re engaging in blog writing, you’re building yourself and your website as the authority figure in your niche. The best way to do that is to ensure that you consistently produce high-quality content.

Thing is, 32% of audiences agree that accuracy is an important factor in creating quality content. It would be difficult to do that when all your content is conjecture or mere opinions, that’s why it’s important that you add statistics and even cite your sources through outbound links.

what is in-house marketing

For example, here’s the article I wrote on in-house vs outsourcing marketing. To illustrate to the readers the situation, I gave a statistic.

However, just because we want your blog writing to be well-researched, it doesn’t mean you have to forgo adding…

Your personal experience

Your personal experience is one of the most important things that you can add to your blog. As someone immersed in SEO for example, I can give tips, tricks, and techniques that I have learned and picked up over the years.

I can share what has worked for me and what hasn’t, what I’ve experimented with, the best tools I’ve found, and what I think of SEO trends that pop up or Google algorithm updates. In the same way, you have your own experiences of your niche, and you have your own valuable insights that you can share with your audiences.

Images

Blogs with images get up to 94% more views than articles that don’t. That’s a pretty high number. And it’s also understandable.

Imagine that plenty of long form content out there are around 2,000 words or so. Now, imagine that they are all just plain text. They would make reading pretty troublesome, and could make understanding for your audience a challenge especially if the topic you’re writing about involves instructions.

And remember, when you engage in blog writing, you have to keep your audience in mind. Not putting images in your articles (especially the longer ones), can make reading your content a bad experience because it’s boring, and you don’t want that.

Internal links

Internal links are the links you create between the pages of your website. When you create your first blog post then you won’t really have a page you can link to (unless if you’re promoting a service or whatnot), so this one is more for when you’ve written a couple of posts.

When you add an internal link, you’re referring your readers to another relevant page on your website. For example, I linked to my outbound links article and my dynamic website article, among others. That’s because they are relevant to this topic and I believe that you can get something valuable from those posts as well.

Sections

Sections make reading your post a lot easier for your audience. When you add sections, you break down your article into more digestible content. Plus you make navigation a lot easier as your readers can skim the section titles and go directly to what they believe is the most relevant part of the article for them.

Your keyword

Lastly, we can’t forget your keyword. Whether you believe that keyword density still matters to SEO, it’s a good idea to give the search engine a chance to know what you’re talking about.

Of course, keyword density is just one way to do that. I’ll discuss more about keywords in the next section.

How to optimize your blog

Next, we go to optimization. You just have to keep in mind a few things here:

  1. Keyword placement
  2. Alt texts
  3. Headers
  4. URL slug
  5. Meta description
  6. Rel=”nofollow”

Keyword placement

First, make sure your keyword is in the following:

  • Title tag
  • Some of the headers
  • Some of the image alt texts
  • URL slug
  • Meta description

It’s important that you make sure the placements aren’t awkward or forced. You’re optimizing for search engines, yes, but you’re also optimizing for your readers.

Alt texts

Make sure you add alt texts to your images. Alt texts are the descriptive texts embedded in images that are read by the search engines so the images can show up when people perform an image search. They also appear when images are broken, and they are read by screen readers for those who are visually challenged.

Headers

Since your article consists of sections, it’s important that you format the section headers properly. For example, H3 would be under H2, H4 would be under H3, and so on and so forth. Proper header formatting allows search engines to understand your content better, and they also ensure that screen readers can help disabled users navigate your blog easily.

URL slug

Next, we have the URL slug. The optimal URL length is around 50-60 characters, with longer URLs negatively impacting SEO.

For example, the URL for this post doesn’t need to be /blog-writing-101-everything-you-need-to-know. It can just be /blog-writing-101.

Meta description

Lastly, we have the meta description. The meta description is the short text that appears on the SERPs that help describe the content of your page. Considering that there are plenty of other websites out there that probably talk about the same things as you do, your meta description can help your blog stand out and get clicked by your target audience.

Here are some examples of meta descriptions:

meta description in blog writing

A good length for your meta description is around 120 to 150 characters. What you want to avoid is for SERPs to truncate them because they’re too long, as seen in the third and fourth blog posts above.

How to apply a how-to schema on your blog posts

Now that you have written and optimized your blog post, it’s time to learn how to apply a how-to schema.

This is, of course, applicable to your articles that are instructive in nature, hence the “how-to.”

How-to articles are one of the best forms of evergreen content (remember what we talked about earlier?). And the thing about how-to articles is that you can basically write about anything and you can be sure that there are at least a handful of people searching for it.

But the work doesn’t end there. Once you are able to get on the first page of Google, you could further improve your article by making it eligible for Google’s Rich Results using the how-to schema.

Google’s guidelines on how-to schema

Rich Results are special types of search results that look far different and more interactive from the traditional blue links. If your content appears in Rich Results, you can expect a higher click-through rate.

To be eligible for Google’s Rich Results, you need to have the right structured data on your page and in this case, we need the how-to schema. Adding how-to schema to your articles simply tells Google that your article is a how-to article. However, before you start deploying how-to schema on all of your articles, make sure that you are following Google’s guidelines first.

  • Advertising: Don’t use HowTo structured data for advertising purposes.
  • Ineligible Content: How-to rich results may not be displayed if the content is obscene, profane, sexually explicit, or graphically violent; or if it promotes dangerous or illegal activities or has hateful or harassing language.
  • Source: All HowTo content must be visible to the user on the source page. The how-to should be the main focus of the source page. Don’t include more than one HowTo for a certain page.
  • Materials and tools: Add structured data to all materials and tools necessary to complete the task.
  • Steps: Each HowToStep must include the entire contents of the source step. Don’t mark up non-step data such as a summary or introduction section as a step.
  • Step images: If the steps are best represented visually, ensure the images in these steps are marked up for each HowToStep. Only mark up the instructional step images that are specific for each step and don’t use the same image in multiple steps for the same how-to. Use the same images that correspond to the content on your page. Don’t use images that don’t reflect the how-to content, or use different images to optimize the rich-result.
  • Final image: If the end result can be accurately described by an image, ensure this image is present on the page, and your HowTo markup includes it using the image property. This image may be the same as the one marked up for the last step.
  • Content: Don’t use HowTo markup for recipes. Recipes should use the Recipe structured data instead. Articles and general advice content that is not a specific set of instructions are not appropriate for HowTo markup.

Applying how-to schema on your blog writing

Understanding the how-to schema objects/elements

Required:

  • Name – title of your article
  • HowToStep or HowToSection – full instructions of each step in the How-To article

Recommended:

  • description – further description of the How-To step
  • estimatedCost – the estimated cost of completing the guide
  • image – a photo of the step for better details
  • supply – an item needed that is consumed to complete a step
  • tool – an item needed but is not consumed to complete a step
  • totalTime – the total time needed to finish the guide
  • video – the full video of the guide
  • video.hasPart – a clip of the full video that indicates a single step
  • video.hasPart.endOffset – the end time of the clip from the beginning of the video
  • video.hasPart.name – the full name of the clip
  • hasPart.startOffset – the start time of the clip from the beginning of the video
  • video.hasPart.url – a link to the specific time of the clip in the full video

Prepare the code and fill in the details

To save you time, you could simply copy and paste this code that I did for the Comprehensive SEO Audit Guide I wrote. There are also a bunch of schema generator websites available or you could also copy the code in the how-to schema guidelines.

Take note that this sample code only has 2 steps in it which is the minimum required. You’ll need to copy and paste the “step” lines of code for each step in your how-to article.

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<script type=”application/ld+json”>
{
“@context”: “http://schema.org”,
“@type”: “HowTo”,
“name”: “SEO Audit 2019: A Comprehensive Guide”,
“description”: “An audit is a part of any SEOs regular duties. Here’s how to do it in 2019.”,
“image”: {“@type”: “ImageObject”,
“url”: “https://seo-hacker.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Cover-Photo-SEO-Audit-2019-A-Comprehensive-Guide.jpg?x45231”,
“height”: “406”,
“width”: “305”},
“tool”: [{ “@type”: “HowToTool”,
“name”: “Google Analytics”
},
{ “@type”: “HowToTool”,
“name”: “Google Search Console”
},
{ “@type”: “HowToTool”,
“name”: “Screaming Frog”
},
{ “@type”: “HowToTool”,
“name”: “SEMRush”
}
],
“step”: [
{
“@type”: “HowToStep”,
“url”: “https://seo-hacker.com/seo-audit-comprehensive-guide/#check-website-traffic”,
“name”: “Check your Website Traffic”,
“itemListElement”: [{
“@type”: “HowToDirection”,
“text”: “Do a regular check of your traffic in Google Analytics. Check for sudden drops and investigate what is the cause of the drop.”
}, {
“@type”: “HowToTip”,
“text”: “It is recommended to do it twice a week.”
}],
“image”: {
“@type”: “ImageObject”,
“url”: “https://seo-hacker.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/screenshot-analytics.google.com-2019.05.16-14-01-30-1024×300.png?x45231”,
“height”: “406”,
“width”: “305”
}
}, {
“@type”: “HowToStep”,
“name”: “Check your Google Search Console Coverage Report”,
“url”: “https://seo-hacker.com/seo-audit-comprehensive-guide/#check-coverage-report”,
“itemListElement”: [{
“@type”: “HowToDirection”,
“text”: “Check your Submitted Sitemaps”
}, {
“@type”: “HowToDirection”,
“text”: “Check Submitted and Indexed Report”
}, {
“@type”: “HowToDirection”,
“text”: “Check Indexed, Not Submitted in Sitemap Report”
}],
“image”: {
“@type”: “ImageObject”,
“url”: “https://seo-hacker.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/GSC-Coverage-Report-1-1024×486.jpg?x45231”,
“height”: “406”,
“width”: “305”
}
} ],
“totalTime”: “P1D”
}
</script>

Test your code and deploy

Once you are done filling in all the details, you now need to check your code for errors. I recommend the Google’s Rich Results Test.

The Rich Results test can verify structured data either via a URL or code snippet. It can give you a preview of how your website will look like in the search results.

rich results

Once everything is perfect, you can now deploy your code! Since the how-to schema is placed in a specific page, I would recommend putting it at the start of the <body> of the HTML code.

Resubmit in Google Search Console

This step is not really required because Google will eventually crawl updates on your page within a few days but just to make sure it gets indexed, you can use the URL inspection tool in Google Search Console and request for reindexing of the page/s you updated.

How it would look in the SERPS

In the Rich Results Tests, you could click Preview and it will show you how your content will appear in the search results for a How-To Rich Result.

rich results serps for blog writing

Monitor how-to schemas in Google Search Console

Once Google is able to crawl the how-to structured data on your blog posts, you will notice a new section under “Enhancements” in your Google Search Console account labeled “How-To”. This is where you can see all the valid how-to pages in your website and should they have any errors or warnings.

Always remember that Rich Results are not guaranteed. Do not get frustrated if you are not seeing How-To rich results for your website since it depends on Google’s algorithm if it is going to show Rich Results for a specific search result.

How to update and enhance old blog posts

Let us say that you finally have a lot of blog posts as you’ve been consistently writing over the years. It’s important that you don’t leave those blog posts alone, but to go back and update them when necessary and applicable.

Knowing which blog posts to update

The first step to updating and enhancing old blog posts is knowing which blog posts to update or enhance. This is applicable for all webmasters but is especially true for publishers where the main source of attracting traffic is through their content, like this website.

The problem happens when you have blog posts dated to 5+ years back. This means that you’ve published hundreds of blog posts or maybe even thousands. So, there has to be a large number of old, underperforming blog posts in your arsenal. How do you choose the blog posts that you will update and enhance?

Through their rankings and traffic. Easy enough, the primary way to determine which of your blog posts needs updating is to check Google Analytics and Google Search Console (or rank tracking SaaS). Here’s how you can do it:

  • On Google Analytics account, go to Behavior → Site Content → All Pages. There you’ll see your top 10 viewed pages for the timeframe you set.

google analytics

  • You can further refine it by searching for particular blog posts you have in mind through the search bar. Though you have to remember to search using your blog post’s URL slug only. If you accidentally include the domain name, it won’t show the results for the specific blog post.
  • If you want to check the pages they visited to enter your site, go to Behavior → Site Content → Landing Pages. Here you’ll see which pages they see first when they enter your site. This is also a great way to check which pages are attracting the most visitors from various sources.

google analytics landing pages

  • To view which blog posts are performing well organically, you can use Google Search Console’s Performance page. Just go to your Google Search Console property, then go to Performance → Search Results → then scroll down until you see the QUERIES table → click on PAGES.

google search console pages

  • Here you’ll see the blog posts that are garnering the top clicks/impressions on Google search results. You can even search for a particular blog post by clicking on the inverted triangle on the upper right side corner of the table to filter the results.

From these two essential tools alone, you’ll be able to determine which blog posts are underperforming and have them updated AND enhanced immediately. So, how do we do it?

Updating posts as blog writing

Now that you’ve determined which blog posts you’ll be updating, you will need to know where to start. I’ve actually written in the past about content augmentation and how to improve an old blog post’s reach. So, I’ll only be including recent and timely strategies that I haven’t written about yet in my other posts.

Serving intent

Intent should now be the primary focus in blog writing when you’re trying to make your posts rank. Historically, keyword optimization was more technical and straightforward where you just needed to put in the keywords in the title tag, meta description, H1, and the body of your content. But as times have changed and Google has continuously improved their machine learning algorithms and content understanding capabilities, serving the right intent for your target keyword is more important than ever.

The buzzword for the industry in recent years is “LSI keywords” while this may hold some importance to some extent, it doesn’t necessarily help you with serving intent. Why? Because in a nutshell, latent semantic indexing keywords are terms that are conceptually related to your target keyword—so if you’re already writing about your keyword topically—which you should, not focusing on the particular keyword, but the overall topic it covers, you’re automatically targeting LSI keywords without having to research, think, focus, and write about them.

Knowing semantic search and serving intent—through manually checking what kind of pages is Google ranking for your target topic or keyword—will not only help you save time and effort but will also help you in determining if you will rank well. There have been many instances in the past where my team and I wrote about a specific keyword or topic while not checking the search results for them. What happened was we were not able to rank well for a considerable amount of time because the search results were serving category and product pages instead of content-heavy pages. If we had just understood the right intent to serve, we wouldn’t have had to rewrite and repeat efforts which took more time and energy.

Republishing

Republishing (and updating) sounds simple but is still an underrated tactic for updating old blog posts. Blog writing doesn’t always have to be about completely new topics, it can be about republishing articles. There are some blog posts that are so outdated that their contents are not even applicable to today’s day and age.

Republishing and updating the information contained in that blog post does not only improve its freshness signals but it’s also an opportunity for you to gain more valuable traffic by having otherwise useless blog posts turn into a traffic-attracting one.

For example, here’s a blog post I updated a while back:

10 things you need to stop doing in your marketing emails

This was published in 2015 and I noticed that some of the things I wrote about were already outdated. So I added two more factors and updated the content to be more relevant and accurate.

Technical factors

This is the easiest and most used tactic for updating old, underperforming blog posts. If you believe that the information of your old blog post is still sufficiently applicable to today’s time, then maybe it just needs a refresher. Maybe your title tag isn’t attracting clicks? Or your meta description doesn’t necessarily imply what the page is about which is why users don’t click on your search results. Changing them to become more appealing and adding timely and informative content will sometimes do the trick.

Through tactics like the ones I’ve mentioned and the ones I’ve written about before, we’ve achieved more traffic count. One of the best examples I can show is an old and underperforming client blog post that jumped right into their top 10 most visited pages over the course of a year:

We did a mix of the tactics I’ve mentioned and optimized the page to be eligible for the featured snippet position. In a matter of a few months, it already gained traffic that’s immensely better than the numbers it used to have. Once it reached the featured snippet spot, it only enjoyed a larger number.

Key takeaway

Blog writing can be quite the challenge, but it is absolutely one of the most important and most rewarding things you can do for your website (and yourself). It involves a lot of research and preparation, but it works well for SEO and it helps you provide valuable information to the people you want to reach.

Let me know how this blog writing 101 guide has helped you!



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Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?

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Are Contextual Links A Google Ranking Factor?


Inbound links are a ranking signal that can vary greatly in terms of how they’re weighted by Google.

One of the key attributes that experts say can separate a high value link from a low value link is the context in which it appears.

When a link is placed within relevant content, it’s thought to have a greater impact on rankings than a link randomly inserted within unrelated text.

Is there any bearing to that claim?

Let’s dive deeper into what has been said about contextual links as a ranking factor to see whether there’s any evidence to support those claims.

The Claim: Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor

A “contextual link” refers to an inbound link pointing to a URL that’s relevant to the content in which the link appears.

When an article links to a source to provide additional context for the reader, for example, that’s a contextual link.

Contextual links add value rather than being a distraction.

They should flow naturally with the content, giving the reader some clues about the page they’re being directed to.

Not to be confused with anchor text, which refers to the clickable part of a link, a contextual link is defined by the surrounding text.

A link’s anchor text could be related to the webpage it’s pointing to, but if it’s surrounded by content that’s otherwise irrelevant then it doesn’t qualify as a contextual link.

Contextual links are said to be a Google ranking factor, with claims that they’re weighted higher by the search engine than other types of links.

One of the reasons why Google might care about context when it comes to links is because of the experience it creates for users.

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When a user clicks a link and lands on a page related to what they were previously looking at, it’s a better experience than getting directed to a webpage they aren’t interested in.

Modern guides to link building all recommend getting links from relevant URLs, as opposed to going out and placing links anywhere that will take them.

There’s now a greater emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to link building, and a link is considered higher quality when its placement makes sense in context.

One high quality contextual link can, in theory, be worth more than multiple lower quality links.

That’s why experts advise site owners to gain at least a few contextual links, as that will get them further than building dozens of random links.

If Google weights the quality of links higher or lower based on context, it would mean Google’s crawlers can understand webpages and assess how closely they relate to other URLs on the web.

Is there any evidence to support this?

The Evidence For Contextual Links As A Ranking Factor

Evidence in support of contextual links as a ranking factor can be traced back to 2012 with the launch of the Penguin algorithm update.

Google’s original algorithm, PageRank, was built entirely on links. The more links pointing to a website, the more authority it was considered to have.

Websites could catapult their site up to the top of Google’s search results by building as many links as possible. It didn’t matter if the links were contextual or arbitrary.

Google’s PageRank algorithm wasn’t as selective about which links it valued (or devalued) over others until it was augmented with the Penguin update.

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Penguin brought a number of changes to Google’s algorithm that made it more difficult to manipulate search rankings through spammy link building practices.

In Google’s announcement of the launch of Penguin, former search engineer Matt Cutts highlighted a specific example of the link spam it’s designed to target.

This example depicts the exact opposite of a contextual link, with Cutts saying:

“Here’s an example of a site with unusual linking patterns that is also affected by this change. Notice that if you try to read the text aloud you’ll discover that the outgoing links are completely unrelated to the actual content, and in fact, the page text has been “spun” beyond recognition.”

A contextual link, on the other hand, looks like the one a few paragraphs above linking to Google’s blog post.

Links with context share the following characteristics:

  • Placement fits in naturally with the content.
  • Linked URL is relevant to the article.
  • Reader knows where they’re going when they click on it.

All of the documentation Google has published about Penguin over the years is the strongest evidence available in support of contextual links as a ranking factor.

See: A Complete Guide to the Google Penguin Algorithm Update

Google will never outright say “contextual link building is a ranking factor,” however, because the company discourages any deliberate link building at all.

As Cutts adds at the end of his Penguin announcement, Google would prefer to see webpages acquire links organically:

“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.”

Contextual Links Are A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

See also  Google Search Console Can More Accurately Report on Indexed Pages via @MattGSouthern

Contextual links are probably a Google ranking factor.

A link is weighted higher when it’s used in context than if it’s randomly placed within unrelated content.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean links without context will negatively impact a site’s rankings.

External links are largely outside a site owner’s control.

If a website links to you out of context it’s not a cause for concern, because Google is capable of ignoring low value links.

On the other hand, if Google detects a pattern of unnatural links, then that could count against a site’s rankings.

If you have actively engaged in non-contextual link building in the past, it may be wise to consider using the disavow tool.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?


Latent semantic indexing (LSI) is an indexing and information retrieval method used to identify patterns in the relationships between terms and concepts.

With LSI, a mathematical technique is used to find semantically related terms within a collection of text (an index) where those relationships might otherwise be hidden (or latent).

And in that context, this sounds like it could be super important for SEO.

Right?

After all, Google is a massive index of information, and we’re hearing all kinds of things about semantic search and the importance of relevance in the search ranking algorithm.

If you’ve heard rumblings about latent semantic indexing in SEO or been advised to use LSI keywords, you aren’t alone.

But will LSI actually help improve your search rankings? Let’s take a look.

The Claim: Latent Semantic Indexing As A Ranking Factor

The claim is simple: Optimizing web content using LSI keywords helps Google better understand it and you’ll be rewarded with higher rankings.

Backlinko defines LSI keywords in this way:

“LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) Keywords are conceptually related terms that search engines use to deeply understand content on a webpage.”

By using contextually related terms, you can deepen Google’s understanding of your content. Or so the story goes.

That resource goes on to make some pretty compelling arguments for LSI keywords:

  • Google relies on LSI keywords to understand content at such a deep level.”
  • LSI Keywords are NOT synonyms. Instead, they’re terms that are closely tied to your target keyword.”
  • Google doesn’t ONLY bold terms that exactly match what you just searched for (in search results). They also bold words and phrases that are similar. Needless to say, these are LSI keywords that you want to sprinkle into your content.”

Does this practice of “sprinkling” terms closely related to your target keyword help improve your rankings via LSI?

The Evidence For LSI As A Ranking Factor

Relevance is identified as one of five key factors that help Google determine which result is the best answer for any given query.

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As Google explains is its How Search Works resource:

“To return relevant results for your query, we first need to establish what information you’re looking forーthe intent behind your query.”

Once intent has been established:

“…algorithms analyze the content of webpages to assess whether the page contains information that might be relevant to what you are looking for.”

Google goes on to explain that the “most basic signal” of relevance is that the keywords used in the search query appear on the page. That makes sense – if you aren’t using the keywords the searcher is looking for, how could Google tell you’re the best answer?

Now, this is where some believe LSI comes into play.

If using keywords is a signal of relevance, using just the right keywords must be a stronger signal.

There are purpose-build tools dedicated to helping you find these LSI keywords, and believers in this tactic recommend using all kinds of other keyword research tactics to identify them, as well.

The Evidence Against LSI As A Ranking Factor

Google’s John Mueller has been crystal clear on this one:

“…we have no concept of LSI keywords. So that’s something you can completely ignore.”

There’s a healthy skepticism in SEO that Google may say things to lead us astray in order to protect the integrity of the algorithm. So let’s dig in here.

First, it’s important to understand what LSI is and where it came from.

Latent semantic structure emerged as a methodology for retrieving textual objects from files stored in a computer system in the late 1980s. As such, it’s an example of one of the earlier information retrieval (IR) concepts available to programmers.

As computer storage capacity improved and electronically available sets of data grew in size, it became more difficult to locate exactly what one was looking for in that collection.

Researchers described the problem they were trying to solve in a patent application filed September 15, 1988:

“Most systems still require a user or provider of information to specify explicit relationships and links between data objects or text objects, thereby making the systems tedious to use or to apply to large, heterogeneous computer information files whose content may be unfamiliar to the user.”

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Keyword matching was being used in IR at the time, but its limitations were evident long before Google came along.

Too often, the words a person used to search for the information they sought were not exact matches for the words used in the indexed information.

There are two reasons for this:

  • Synonymy: the diverse range of words used to describe a single object or idea results in relevant results being missed.
  • Polysemy: the different meanings of a single word results in irrelevant results being retrieved.

These are still issues today, and you can imagine what a massive headache it is for Google.

However, the methodologies and technology Google uses to solve for relevance long ago moved on from LSI.

What LSI did was automatically create a “semantic space” for information retrieval.

As the patent explains, LSI treated this unreliability of association data as a statistical problem.

Without getting too into the weeds, these researchers essentially believed that there was a hidden underlying latent semantic structure they could tease out of word usage data.

Doing so would reveal the latent meaning and enable the system to bring back more relevant results – and only the most relevant results – even if there’s no exact keyword match.

Here’s what that LSI process actually looks like:

Image created by author, January 2022

And here’s the most important thing you should note about the above illustration of this methodology from the patent application: there are two separate processes happening.

First, the collection or index undergoes Latent Semantic Analysis.

Second, the query is analyzed and the already-processed index is then searched for similarities.

And that’s where the fundamental problem with LSI as a Google search ranking signal lies.

Google’s index is massive at hundreds of billions of pages, and it’s growing constantly.

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Each time a user inputs a query, Google is sorting through its index in a fraction of a second to find the best answer.

Using the above methodology in the algorithm would require that Google:

  1. Recreate that semantic space using LSA across its entire index.
  2. Analyze the semantic meaning of the query.
  3. Find all similarities between the semantic meaning of the query and documents in the semantic space created from analyzing the entire index.
  4. Sort and rank those results.

That’s a gross oversimplification, but the point is that this isn’t a scalable process.

This would be super useful for small collections of information. It was helpful for surfacing relevant reports inside a company’s computerized archive of technical documentation, for example.

The patent application illustrates how LSI works using a collection of nine documents. That’s what it was designed to do. LSI is primitive in terms of computerized information retrieval.

Latent Semantic Indexing As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI): Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

While the underlying principles of eliminating noise by determining semantic relevance have surely informed developments in search ranking since LSA/LSI was patented, LSI itself has no useful application in SEO today.

It hasn’t been ruled out completely, but there is no evidence that Google has ever used LSI to rank results. And Google definitely isn’t using LSI or LSI keywords today to rank search results.

Those who recommend using LSI keywords are latching on to a concept they don’t quite understand in an effort to explain why the ways in which words are related (or not) is important in SEO.

Relevance and intent are foundational considerations in Google’s search ranking algorithm.

Those are two of the big questions they’re trying to solve for in surfacing the best answer for any query.

Synonymy and polysemy are still major challenges.

Semantics – that is, our understanding of the various meanings of words and how they’re related – is essential in producing more relevant search results.

But LSI has nothing to do with that.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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What Is a Google Broad Core Algorithm Update?

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What Is A Google Broad Core Algorithm Update?


When Google announces a broad core algorithm update, many SEO professionals find themselves asking what exactly changed (besides their rankings).

Google’s acknowledgment of core updates is always vague and doesn’t provide much detail other than to say the update occurred.

The SEO community is typically notified about core updates via the same standard tweets from Google’s Search Liaison.

There’s one announcement from Google when the update begins rolling out, and one on its conclusion, with few additional details in between (if any).

This invariably leaves SEO professionals and site owners asking many questions with respect to how their rankings were impacted by the core update.

To gain insight into what may have caused a site’s rankings to go up, down, or stay the same, it helps to understand what a broad core update is and how it differs from other types of algorithm updates.

After reading this article you’ll have a better idea of what a core update is designed to do, and how to recover from one if your rankings were impacted.

So, What Exactly Is A Core Update?

First, let me get the obligatory “Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes per year, often more than one per day” boilerplate out of the way.

Many of the named updates we hear about (Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, Fred, etc.) are implemented to address specific faults or issues in Google’s algorithms.

In the case of Penguin, it was link spam; in the case of Pigeon, it was local SEO spam.

They all had a specific purpose.

In these cases, Google (sometimes reluctantly) informed us what they were trying to accomplish or prevent with the algorithm update, and we were able to go back and remedy our sites.

A core update is different.

The way I understand it, a core update is a tweak or change to the main search algorithm itself.

You know, the one that has between 200 and 500 ranking factors and signals (depending on which SEO blog you’re reading today).

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What a core update means to me is that Google slightly tweaked the importance, order, weights, or values of these signals.

Because of that, they can’t come right out and tell us what changed without revealing the secret sauce.

The simplest way to visualize this would be to imagine 200 factors listed in order of importance.

Now imagine Google changing the order of 42 of those 200 factors.

Rankings would change, but it would be a combination of many things, not due to one specific factor or cause.

Obviously, it isn’t that simple, but that’s a good way to think about a core update.

Here’s a purely made up, slightly more complicated example of what Google wouldn’t tell us:

“In this core update, we increased the value of keywords in H1 tags by 2%, increased the value of HTTPS by 18%, decreased the value of keyword in title tag by 9%, changed the D value in our PageRank calculation from .85 to .70, and started using a TF-iDUF retrieval method for logged in users instead of the traditional TF-PDF method.”

(I swear these are real things. I just have no idea if they’re real things used by Google.)

For starters, many SEO pros wouldn’t understand it.

Basically, it means Google may have changed the way they calculate term importance on a page, or the weighing of links in PageRank, or both, or a whole bunch of other factors that they can’t talk about (without giving away the algorithm).

Put simply: Google changed the weight and importance of many ranking factors.

That’s the simple explanation.

At its most complex form, Google ran a new training set through their machine learning ranking model and quality raters picked this new set of results as more relevant than the previous set, and the engineers have no idea what weights changed or how they changed because that’s just how machine learning works.

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(We all know Google uses quality raters to rate search results. These ratings are how they choose one algorithm change over another – not how they rate your site. Whether they feed this into machine learning is anybody’s guess. But it’s one possibility.)

It’s likely some random combination of weighting delivered more relevant results for the quality raters, so they tested it more, the test results confirmed it, and they pushed it live.

How Can You Recover From A Core Update?

Unlike a major named update that targeted specific things, a core update may tweak the values of everything.

Because websites are weighted against other websites relevant to your query (engineers call this a corpus) the reason your site dropped could be entirely different than the reason somebody else’s increased or decreased in rankings.

To put it simply, Google isn’t telling you how to “recover” because it’s likely a different answer for every website and query.

It all depends on what everybody else trying to rank for your query is doing.

Does every one of them but you have their keyword in the H1 tag? If so then that could be a contributing factor.

Do you all do that already? Then that probably carries less weight for that corpus of results.

It’s very likely that this algorithm update didn’t “penalize” you for something at all. It most likely just rewarded another site more for something else.

Maybe you were killing it with internal anchor text and they were doing a great job of formatting content to match user intent – and Google shifted the weights so that content formatting was slightly higher and internal anchor text was slightly lower.

(Again, hypothetical examples here.)

In reality, it was probably several minor tweaks that, when combined, tipped the scales slightly in favor of one site or another (think of our reordered list here).

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Finding that “something else” that is helping your competitors isn’t easy – but it’s what keeps SEO professionals in the business.

Next Steps And Action Items

Rankings are down after a core update – now what?

Your next step is to gather intel on the pages that are ranking where your site used to be.

Conduct a SERP analysis to find positive correlations between pages that are ranking higher for queries where your site is now lower.

Try not to overanalyze the technical details, such as how fast each page loads or what their core web vitals scores are.

Pay attention to the content itself. As you go through it, ask yourself questions like:

  • Does it provide a better answer to the query than your article?
  • Does the content contain more recent data and current stats than yours?
  • Are there pictures and videos that help bring the content to life for the reader?

Google aims to serve content that provides the best and most complete answers to searchers’ queries. Relevance is the one ranking factor that will always win out over all others.

Take an honest look at your content to see if it’s as relevant today as it was prior to the core algorithm update.

From there you’ll have an idea of what needs improvement.

The best advice for conquering core updates?

Keep focusing on:

  • User intent.
  • Quality content.
  • Clean architecture.
  • Google’s guidelines.

Finally, don’t stop improving your site once you reach Position 1, because the site in Position 2 isn’t going to stop.

Yeah, I know, it’s not the answer anybody wants and it sounds like Google propaganda. I swear it’s not.

It’s just the reality of what a core update is.

Nobody said SEO was easy.

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