Blogging has become a competitive industry with more and more bloggers joining the trend every day. It can be hard to keep up with how to blog, but following our blogging guide will help you stay on top of your game. This blog SEO post will provide you with essential tips for blogging in 2021, which specifically includes strategies that will help you rank on the search engines.
It’s SEO, simplified.
Table of contents
- What Should I Blog About?
- Blog Income
- The Quick and Dirty of Domain Authority
- Why You Should Start with Low Competition Keywords
- Choosing a Domain Name
- Blogging Formats
- Blog Titles
- Blog Images
- On-Page SEO
- E-A-T Score
- Blogging Resources
What Should I Blog About?
If you are just starting with your blog, you may be wondering what to blog about. Blogging is a lot more than just writing – it takes research, time, and effort to produce quality content that people will want to read.
And if you don’t pick the right niche and topics, your blog may never be discovered, anyway.
If you want a hobby, write about anything you love. If you want to earn an income, you’ll need to make sure it’s a topic that can generate sales or ad revenue.
This is why it’s important to have a blog post topic in mind before you start writing.
Here are some questions that can help guide your decision:
– What are the topics I like?
– What am I passionate about?
– Who do my friends and family talk with me about what they find interesting or funny?
In most cases, those 3 answers will be hobbies. Yet if the answers are also commercial topics, you might win with both: topics you love, and a niche that generates income.
Key Takeaway: Choose if you are going to create a hobby or a business. Most often, they are not one and the same. If you want to blog as a hobby, take a look at Medium.com. You can blog about your hobby and can make money if that article goes viral. That way, you can avoid the heavy building on a website like WordPress, and save that for your business blog.
If you have decided to build your blog as a business, rather than a hobby, this section is for you. You’ll need to learn how bloggers make money, which niches earn the most, and how to apply these top strategies.
As a blogger, I earn 6-figures crossing multiple niches from real estate to food to lifestyle to tech. I earn income through ads, speaking, courses, services, products, and affiliate income.
Popular Blog Niches
The most popular blog posts today are Heath & Fitness, Personal Finance, Food blogs, DIY, Crafters, Travel, Beauty, Lifestyle, Parenting, and pets.
Highest Blog Income Earners
Based on public income reports published by bloggers, the highest income earners are personal finance, and food blogs followed by Mommy blogs, lifestyle blogs, and travel blogs.
GrowthBadger.com did a study and reported that Bloggers who make more than $50,000 per year generate most of their traffic from organic Google Rankings.
Basically, they focus on SEO.
The more popular the topic, the more competitive it is. You could be the best blogger on the planet and not rank on Google if the topic is too saturated.
Choosing a Niche
Instead of covering a “broad” topic, drill down into the sub-niches of the niche.
Instead of Heath & Fitness, build a blog about Ladies who Lift. Specialize in strength training for women.
Instead of Personal Finance, build a blog about retiring early, living off the grid, or budgeting and saving money.
Instead of a general food blog, build a food blog about instant recipes, the keto diet, or sugar-free desserts!
I recently learned about a woman who paid off her mortgage after creating 365 days of Crock-Pot recipes! She’s now moved on to instant pot and air fryers!
Instead of DIY everything, how about DIY Storage Ideas.
Instead of general crafting: Create a website about sticker making.
The key to a successful blog is knowing what your niche is and then narrowing it down into smaller topics. Your blog will be more targeted for future readers who are looking for something specific when they browse through the content on your site!
You don’t want to niche down so small that you can’t earn an income from it. Take a free trial of SEMRush and do some research around your topic. You’ll find a column with the search volume for a keyword.
You’ll want to make sure the topic you choose has a lot of keywords with searches every month.
If you look at the column for CPC, you can view how much people are spending per click to target the keyword. When people are spending money to target that keyword phrase or topic, it probably has income earning potential.
Another way to use SEMrush to determine if a blog could have enough traffic is to do a competitive analysis. Do a search on Google for your target topic. Be sure it’s in the same niche.
Example: If you are building a small animal website, you wouldn’t compare the “pets” websites. You would need to specifically find websites that are about small animals.
Copy the domain name of position 1. Enter that into the search bar on SEMrush and look at the domain overview.
What kind of traffic is it earning? When you average the traffic earned from the search engine results page (called a SERP), that’s probably the maximum amount of traffic you can expect to gain if you took the top positions for those keywords.
Do this same thing with the other pages ranking on page one of Google.
Ideally, your domain name will broad, meaning that it can grow into the broad niches, but you’ll start with the smallest competition topics and work your way up.
More on that in a bit.
How Bloggers Make Money
- Digital Products like Courses, Downloads, and Printables
- Ads (Ezoic (for beginners), Adthrive, Mediavine (Top earners = Food Blogs)
- Affiliate Income
- Physical Products
Key Takeaways: Rather than choosing a broad topic to start blogging about, begin with the sub-niches of the niche that have less competition. If you can’t identify who your audience is specifically, you may not have drilled down far enough in your niches.
The Quick and Dirty of Domain Authority
I’ll keep this part short and simple. Your blog domain (web address) has a score. Depending on the SEO tool you use (I like SEMrush), you’ll see your “score”. Moz was the first to create the scoring system calling it “Domain Authority”.
Essentially, this score grows over time as you gather backlinks. Backlinks are earned when another website mentions your website on their blog with a link back to your blog.
Each page on your website, blog posts included, have a score as well.
For a quick, uncomplicated summary, I’ll just say this. Most often, the top-ranking pages on Google have higher domain scores.
The outliers are the ones that found just the right topics that are under-served. Meaning, they have less search volume, are more laser targeted, and have less competition.
As your website grows, and you earn more backlinks (by creating quality posts other websites want to reference), then you’ll be able to compete with more competitive terms.
Therefore, if you pick a super competitive broad topic like “pets”, you will have to create many topics in the sub-niches like “small-animals” and cover the subtopics of that niche in-depth.
The best way to earn backlinks is by creating long-form posts (2000 + words generally), as well as skyscraper blogs (3000-5000 word comprehensive guides with infographics, stats, and other rich media.
People most often refer to case studies! For example “I looked at 25 breeds of small dogs to identify the best pets for kids”.
Domains with an authority score of 50+ can generally compete with the more competitive terms. Most likely, it will take you years to climb that high unless you are incredible with content and backlink outreach.
SEMrush uses a total number of backlinks to create the score and give you low competition phrases that are easier to rank for. This Keyword Difficulty Score (or KD) can help you know where to get started.
Sort by the 0-39% keyword difficulty first and work your way up to the “medium”, and then “hard” competition as your domain grows.
Learn more about Low competition keywords in the next strategy.
Key Takeaways: For the most part, you’ll compete against other blogs with similar domain scores. These are created primarily based on backlinks, where another website links to your website. It can take years to grow your domain authority. Start by creating content where lower domains are ranking on Google. Moz has a toolbar you can download that will tell you each domain rating.
Why You Should Start with Low Competition Keywords
Most SEO tools like SEMrush show a keyword difficulty score, or organic competition score. Be careful not to confusion this with a pay per click metric that shows ad competition (such as in Google’s Keyword Planner tool for Ads).
This is a time-consuming process, but you can find free backlinks by creating content that’s valuable, even if it’s a lesser searched term.
The truth about SEO and blogging is this, it can take years to rank a blog post. As I explained earlier, that’s because you have to build trust, expertise, and authority (backlinks) with google.
With a low competition keyword phrase, you can rank on Google and other search engines much faster: weeks, rather than months, quite often.
In addition, we know that keywords in the top 3 positions of Google (especially #1) earn most of the clicks on the page. Therefore, ranking higher for a low competition keyword could generate more clicks than ranking on page 4 for a high competition keyword.
Studies have also shown that more backlinks are generated from top position pages on Google. Meaning, more websites will reverence the #1 ranking page than the ones below it.
So, we can deduce that by earning a #1 position for a low competition keyword, we are more likely to generate backlinks.
Key Takeaways: Use a keyword research tool to discover low competition keywords. While I use SEMrush, you may find a cheaper keyword tool like Spyfu does the job. By writing on low competition keywords, you can rank faster, and in higher positions than writing on higher competition keywords that would require a higher domain score with backlinks.
Choosing a Domain Name
Your domain name is your website’s address. Choosing a blog name that is marketable is key. There are a few magic combinations that are used more often with successful bloggers.
- Keeping the domain name to 4 words or less. 2 is Ideal.
- Names and Name Varieties: BallenBlogger, NeilPatel, MerryMary
- Work to keep your domain name short, maybe 15 – 20 Characters.
- Word + Word ( such as: CreateAndGo, BetterHomesandGarden, WitandDelight
- A domain name with two words that combines an adjective and a noun if possible. Examples: ProgressiveAutomations, Fabulousafter40, MidlifeMonarch, FaveCrafts.
- You can also play on words like ending the word in a popular ending like Sketchucation, Partsology, or Mathapedia
Keep in mind that a more general domain is usually more valuable if you sell your website later. Personal name websites would be harder to sell. Avoid using any brand names in your domain name, or anything that would offend potential advertisers.
Key Takeaways: Spend some time deciding on your domain name, yet not so long that you are unable to take action. Don’t just take the first one available on GoDaddy.com. If you can find a 2-word domain name that is under 20 characters and easy to spell, that would be ideal. Most high traffic blog names are 4 words or less and are a name, adjective + name, or a combination of adjectives, nouns, and verbs. Keep your domain advertiser-friendly and don’t include trademarked brands in your domain name.
Today, there are a few key blog formats that are used by bloggers. These frameworks include listicles, alternatives, “vs”, and product reviews.
The “Vs.” Post
The Vs. Post has two opposing points of view and then a conclusion. The format can be used in the form of a slideshow or as an infographic, which is what makes it so shareable.
The “Vs.” post is popular among us affiliate marketers. It’s popular because it has commercial user intent. Most searchers using “vs” in a Google search are looking to buy something.
They often will click the affiliate link and make a purchase.
The Listicle Post
Listicles are posts that include an ordered list with items and descriptions. It’s popular because the content communicates succinctly without overwhelming readers. This post type may seem like it has been done before but there have always been slight tweaks to make them new again- for example, presenting your top ten tips instead of just five!
Keep In mind that more people will click on the highest number of items on a list. For example:
14 of the best healthy dog foods for your pup vs. 24 amazing foods that are healthy for your dog.
More people will click on the ’24 amazing foods’ even if it’s a lower ranking than the ’14 of the best’
This post type includes all about what you think about one specific product (or service) after using it yourself- good or bad. These reviews might also go into detail on how much money was spent, what the product is like, and what you thought of it.
So if I wanted to post an article on “Top Ten Tips for Achieving Blog Success in 2021” then this would be a good listicle topic idea!
I loved my new vacuum cleaner from Dyson so much that I decided to write a review about how great it is- both as a means of maintaining some kind of sanity in the midst of all these springtime allergies and also because they deserve recognition!
Long-Form Content Post
Most bloggers would consider 2000 + words in a single post to be long-form. These are usually informational posts that provide a detailed overview of a topic.
Pillar Post (Skyscraper Post)
The Pillar post is longer than a long-form piece of content. Pillar Posts can be twice as long, or even 3 times as long as a long-form blog. It is not unusual to see 5000 words used in a Pillar Post.
Pillar Posts are most often comprehensive guides. They cover a topic in-depth and contain many subheadings and paragraphs. You’ll usually see lots of photos, infographics, charts, and other rich media in a pillar post. These posts are the cornerstone content that you will refer to again and again throughout your blog.
Pillar Posts are definitive guides, usually placed at the top of a blog’s homepage and they can also be used as featured content on other pages. They’re often promotional in nature, but not always.
A small pet blogger might create a long-form content post with 2000 words that covers how to feed a rabbit.
He might also create a pillar post that covers how to care for a rabbit. The pillar post would be a comprehensive guide that includes how to house the rabbit, feed the rabbit, keep the rabbit healthy, playing with the rabbit, cleaning the rabbit’s habitat, and so forth.
Pillar Posts are essential for gaining backlinks, and shares on social media.
This blog, for example, would be considered a Pillar Post as it is a comprehensive guide to creating blog posts that rank on Google.
Many of my top blog posts that are ranking on Google for my new, low domain authority blog are about affiliate marketing programs.
Therefore, I could create a Pillar Post on “25 Top Paying Affiliate Niches”, for example. Each of the subheadings (H2’s), would then be a category that my affiliate program blogs fall under. Beauty Affiliate Programs, Finance Affiliate Programs, Software Affiliate Programs, etc.
Then, I could include the programs in each niche.
Key Takeaways: There are several blog frameworks that are proven to work on search engines. These include listicles, long-form informational content, “vs.” and “alternatives” posts, product reviews, and Pillar Posts (or Skyscraper content). The Pillar Post is ideal for generating backlinks and social shares.
Hubspot showed in their study that the posts with the most traffic had 11 to 13 words in the title consistently.
Creating a great blog title can increase the number of people that click on your blog post.
Let’s say someone performs a search on Google. They will then see a list of results on the search engine results page (SERP).
Each ranking website will be displayed as a “snippet”. The snippet usually includes a title, a description, and a URL. Some snippets will be enhanced with links, as well.
Each time your blog post appears on a SERP, it’s considered an “impression”. You can see these impressions at Google Search Console. When someone clicks on the snippet, you’ll see that too.
The number of clicks divided by the number of impressions is your click-through rate.
Let’s say your blog post has appeared on the SERP 1000 times. 30 people clicked the URL from the snippet. Your click-through rate would be 3%. Higher click-through rates can indicate to Google that your blog is worthy of rising the ranks.
What’s more, is that more clicks = more traffic.
Therefore, creating the right title is KEY to improving your click-through rate.
Using headline creator software like the one at conversion.ai can help you optimize your title.
Adding modifiers can increase your clicks.
Examples of modifiers are:
- Adding a number to the front of the title.
- Adding a year to the end of the title.
- Adding a word in brackets to the end of the title.
I like to do a search for the keyword I’m targeting and look at what the other titles show.
If most of the results are listicles, I’m going to create a listicle. If most of the results have numbers at the front, I’m going to add a number and I’m going to add more items in the list so I can gain more clicks.
The same would go for the other modifiers.
Sometimes, Google will reward the keywords that are placed at the front of the title.
Let’s take the query: “The best pets for kids.”
I can see on the SERP that videos actually rank the highest on the page, so I’m probably going to create a video if I am doing a video.
Next, I can see that 1/2 of the blogs start with a number in the title. I’m going to use a number.
If we search “Best laptop computer”, we can see that all of the results have a modifier that includes the year.
Key Takeaways: Adding modifiers to your blog title can help increase your click-through rate, traffic, and rankings on Google. It’s a best practice to perform a search on Google for your target keyword/topic and see what modifiers the top results are using. These are generally numbers in the front of the list, a year at the end of the list, and a valuable item or important feature added in the brackets. [free guide, tutorial, proven case study]. Using software like Conversion.ai can help you find a catchy title to add your modifiers to.
Most bloggers use 1 main image or a few at most. Studies show that when you include more images in a blog post, you’ll gain more traffic. Orbit recently reported that in it’s study, bloggers who used more than 10 images in a blog got better results, yet only 3% of bloggers apply that strategy.
Images can appear in Google Image search which can gain clicks. Photos also prove to increase dwell time on your website which is how long someone spends on the page. This factor is a quality signal that can help you rank higher.
Stock images are easy and you can find these for free using a creative platform like Canva. I have a free trial for you to take a 30-day spin of Canva Pro. I like the Pro Version so that I can remove the background of a photo, use pro clips and video footages, and set up a brand kit with my colors and fonts.
Stock Images are not as valuable as the types we will discuss next.
->Click here for your Canva Pro Trial.
Modern bloggers are also using comical gifs. Giphy is one website where you can find gifs for your blog. Graphs, Bars, and Charts are also popular. They are also valuable additions to your blog as they often attract backlinks. You can make these in Canva as well.
Infographics, also available as templates at Canva, can also attract backlinks and social shares.
SVG images are high-resolution images, which can also be created at Canva, that are known to keep readers on your blog.
All of these types are worth testing.
Using a variety of images such as charts, infographics, gifs, stock photos, and SVG animations can improve the user experiences and increase retention on your blog. You can use Canva to use or create most of these, and Giphy for animated gifs. Be careful not to use large file sizes that slow your page speed. You can choose the lower resolution images when downloading from Canva.
Besides creating great long-form content, using a popular blog framework, increasing click-through rate by using title modifiers, and earning backlinks that increase domain authority, there are a few on-page SEO best practices that can also increase your chances of ranking on google.
Make sure your blog post URL uses a proper permalink structure. Meaning, your URL should contain words, not garbled symbols and numbers. Don’t include a date in your URL. Keep your total domain short.
Your Top Level domain is your main website address. Then, any characters that come after the slash, are referred to as the slug.
A great blog post domain would include the keyword in the slug, and would look something like this.
ballenblogger.com/blog-seo or ballenblogger.com/keyword-tools
rather than ballenblogger.com/blog/123?4&*.
Don’t change your URL once it’s published, or your links will be broken and return a 404 error page rather than the intended blog post. If you do change your URLs after they are published, you will need to set up a redirect for the new page.
You no longer need to stuff keywords into your blog in order for them to rank. Best practices still dictate using the keyword in the slug of the URL (as mentioned above), in the first paragraph, in the meta description, in at least one of your subheadings (H2/H3), and in an image alt tag/title.
Subheadings are important to the user and to Google as they identify a new thought or section of your blog. They are basically an outline-style format. The title of your blog is already a Heading 1 (main heading) by default. Your paragraph sections should include a Heading called (H2), and any sub-topics of the H2 would be an H3.
The search engines consider these headings to be important so strategic keyword placement in the headings is ideal.
In addition, Google will sometimes take these headings and make them jump links enhancing your snippet, which I explained earlier.
Using a Table of contents in your blog can improve the user experience and increase your chances of gaining jump links. The Table of contents is generally a list of your headings.
If you are using WordPress, check out Elementor Pro templates and test the table of contents element. It automates the process.
You can also add a table of contents plugins that can also create your TOC automatically from your headings.
Google expects to see you linking to other resources. Outbound links can be a quality signal to Google. Use them sparingly, however, and consider making them no-follow links.
Internal links are established when you link from one page on your website to another. These links help your visitor learn more about a specific topic, and help Google form a relationship between pages.
Setting up contextual internal links manually is generally better as you will have a larger variety of “context” for Google to view instead of one set of matched keywords that link to another page every time.
That being said, sometimes automation is necessary. You’ll want to experiment and determine the best practice.
Thirsty Affiliates automation is certainly ideal for affiliate links that you will reference throughout your blog posts.
Including a strong call to action with your links, can increase clicks.
Example: I recently ran a report of the top 100 pets for kids, and you can find that here. The link would actually be linked to the words “pets for kids” which creates the contextual link rather than linked to the word “here” which is a mistake new bloggers often make.
Use a variety of images on your blog as I mentioned previously when I explained a variety of image options. Optimize your ALT tag and title with your keyword. The ALT tag is used to read to a visitor what the image is about if they can’t see the image themselves.
Key Takeaways: On-Page SEO can increase your chances of ranking higher on Google. Following a simple on-page SEO Checklist is a best practice. Some people like to use SEO plugins like All In One SEO, Rank Math, or Yoast.
Google has a rating score which you should keep in mind while you are working to grow your blog rankings on Google. E-A-T is an acronym for Expertise, Authority, and Trust.
In general topics, this score may not be essential. If your article is a YMYL article (Your Money Or Your Life), E-A-T is crucial.
Google wants to see that subject matter experts are writing articles that are about “riskier” topics such as health, and financing. Expertise comes with education, certifications, and other evidence of an expert.
Google says that for more general topics, personal experience can quantify as expertise.
Authority is another word for reputation. Google is looking for links and mentions that indicate the reputation of the blogger. They look for other influencers and authorities on the topic to “vouge” for the writer’s reputation as well. These manual raters may look at forums, review sites, social media, and other websites to get the pulse on a blogger’s reputation.
Trust has more to do with the website itself. It is looking for transparency such as the bloggers name, brand, and contact details. They look for the website to be secure, and accurate. This is especially true for news blogs.
Key Takeaways: Google quality raters use an E-A-T Score determining expertise, authority, and trust. You’ll want to be an expert on topics related to health, finance, parenting, and other YMYL categories. If you are not an expert, bring in an expert author and include a bio. Gain quality links, mentions, and reviews to show authority. Make sure your website is transparent including your identity and contact info, factual, and secure. Include designations, certifications, and experience in your bio.
Keyword Research Tools
As mentioned earlier, most bloggers who earn a full-time income are generating most of their traffic through search engine rankings.
Keyword research tools will help you find keywords that are searched for on a daily basis but have little to no competition.
- AnswerThePublic.com (great for Questions)
- Google Trends
- KWFinder (Formally Longtail Pro)
- Keyword Spy
Email Platforms for Bloggers
Bloggers with the highest incomes report email lists as a top revenue source. They make offers on their blog (called Lead Magnets) and build a list. Then, they email their list with value items and occasional offers.
Bloggers that create custom lead magnets for their top-performing posts report higher conversion rates.
For example, if I’m ranking high on a travel blog for “what to pack for a cruise”, I could offer a checklist that is a digital download. If I have a lot of traffic to my “Keto Bread” Recipe, I might offer a digital download of that recipe or a small recipe book that I made on Canva.
If you are using WordPress, check out the Elementor Pro page builder that includes pop-up offers, hello bars, and slide-ins for making lead magnet offers. You might also like Optinmonster which works with most email autoresponders.
Here are some popular email programs for bloggers: