There are certain actions that you should try to execute before you hit the publish button on any blog post. Some of these actions are for readability, others for SEO purposes, others just for organization.
Having a checklist is of paramount importance.
I see too many bloggers who just brain dump into WordPress and hit “Publish”. No strategy in mind – no nothing. Then, nobody comes. Not only that, if you had an opportunity to sit over the shoulders of most of your readers (if you have any), you’d find that most of them aren’t even reading your post at all. No comments. No tweets.
[insert cricket noises here]
So, what I’m going to do in this post is give you a checklist. I’ll go over it and give the reasons why each step is there.
Then, at the bottom, I’m going to outright GIVE you a PDF of the checklist. Download it, print it and tape it onto your desk. Then, from here on out, reference it for each post you put together.
OK, let’s roll.
Section 1: Evaluation
Evaluation is all about ensuring your post is worth somebody’s time. If the post is boring, nobody will care about it and it isn’t going to do any good for you. You don’t want to publish a post merely to satisfy some quota. It needs to have a reason for existing.
[1A] Are People Searching For The Kind Of Information You’re Writing?
This is one of the most important things to consider if you’re trying to put your blog on the map. All it takes is some basic keyword research. The tools anybody can use are:
With the keyword tool, you simply plug in the search phrase that you think people would most likely use in order to find a post just like the one you’re publishing. Then, see the search volume that comes up.
With Google, you just run that actual search and see what comes up. I recommend having an SEO plug-in of some kind installed. For example, if you’re using Chrome, I really like the SEO For Chrome plug-in (available in the Chrome Web Store for free). When you’re looking at the search results, you’re looking at the sites in the top 10 results and gauging your likelihood to be able to outrank them.
If the sites on the front page are high pagerank, your job will be harder. If you’re competing against authority sites (i.e. sites which Google would automatically trust, like Wikipedia or major corporate sites), it’ll be harder to outrank them.
However, if the sites in the top 10 are fairly low pagerank, then you might be able to outrank them.
So, what you’re looking for is decent monthly search volume combined with sites which you think you can outrank. And you can “massage” the keyword phrases you target with your blog post in order to find those which give you the best odds of ranking in the top 10.
[1B] Will People Be Able To Walk Away From The Post With A “Take-Away”?
It is one thing to just post an opinion, give somebody a laugh, or just get somebody thinking. It is quite another to truly HELP them. And the best way to give THEM the sense that you’ve actually helped them is to give them a “take away”.
Will the reader walk away from your post with something to DO? Is there an action item? Will they learn anything? Any “aha moments”?
For example, this very post is one that I think will be useful to people. And I’m hooking you up with a PDF checklist at the end. It is a “take away”. Your’s doesn’t have to be downloadable, but there has to be something there.
[1C] Is Your Post Unique In Some Way?
Being a “me too” post which just parrots what tons of others have said… is useless.
What makes YOUR post stand out?
Is it more in-depth than usual? Is it backed by research? Does it “wow” people with the amount of info? Does it have a video whereas most people in your niche never use video? Does it have a download associated with it?
Section 2: Optimize For Search
We touched on one of the most important aspects of post SEO above. But, let’s get even more specific.
[2A] Fine-tune The Headline
You want to try to work your main keyword phrase into the headline. But, you also need to formulate the headline to grab people’s attention. Writing for a search spider while also standing out to human beings is a real art.
“How To” headlines work well. List posts also work. A typical formula people use is:
[X][Keyword Phrase][Curiosity Phrase]
So, if the phrase I wanted to rank for was “blog post headlines”, I might try something like:
10 Blog Post Headlines That Work Every Time They’re Tried
You can also put a qualifier onto the headline in order to make the reader realize it is for them. Let’s say I was trying to rank for “time saving tips”. Well, my audience is bloggers (obviously), so I might use something like:
7 Powerful Time Saving Tips For Bloggers
The big idea here is to work your keyword phrase into the headline, while also making it compelling. Will the headline make people want to click on it? Does it contain a promise of payoff for the reader?
[2B] Clean Up The Slug.
The word “slug” is one of the strangest words in the entire blogging lexicon. All it is is the phrase which goes into the URL of the post. You can define the slug right beneath the headline in the WordPress interface.
By default, WordPress dumps every single word of your headline into the slug. But, that’s very cluttered and I don’t recommend you keep it that way. What you want, instead, is for your slug to contain the keyword phrase which you’re trying to target.
So, let’s take the headline: 10 Blog Post Headlines That Work Every Time They’re Tried.
- Default URL: davidrisley.com/10-blog-post-headlines-that-work-every-time-theyre-tried/
- Ideal URL: davidrisley.com/blog-post-headlines/
See, in the ideal URL, the slug has been shortened to only contain the main keyword phrase.
Having the keyword phrase in the URL itself helps with your SEO.
[2C] Make Sure Your Keyword Phrase Is Within The Content, Too
Your keyword phrase is in your headline and in your slug. It needs to also be within your content – obviously.
Chances are, this will be done without even thinking about it. After all, if I’m writing a post about blog post headlines, chances are the words “blog post headlines” will appear in my post a few times.
[2D] Sub-Headlines In Place, Using H2 or H3 tags.
Using sub-headlines within your post is HUGELY important. They serve two functions:
- They break up the flow of the post. You NEVER want your reader to see a big, long block of uninterrupted text when they look at your post. Your readers are lazy (for the most part) and they simply won’t read it. If you break it up with subheadlines, the reader can scan them and judge whether to read the post (and better see what’s in it).
- Sub-headlines are important for SEO. Your post headline should be in H1 tags, but sub-headlines are usually in H2 and H3 tags – and the search spiders place importance on the text within those sub-headlines in order to help rank your post.
So, just like headlines, you want your sub-headlines to contain words which (a) help spiders rank you for your keyword phrase, and (b) entice the reader to want to read the text immediately beneath the sub-headline.
Section 3: Formatting And Structure
People won’t read your post just because you wrote it. The post needs to contain a promise of pay-off for the time it takes to read it, and the post needs to be formatted so that it seems easy enough to read and won’t overwhelm.
[3A] Paragraphs are short.
Do not use long paragraphs – and NEVER, EVER, EVER justify the text left and right.
When you use justified text and combine that with long paragraphs, I can pretty much guarantee you that 90% of your visitors will see that post and immediately back off – NEVER reading it.
They won’t read it because:
- They can’t scan it and see if there’s going to be a pay-off for them.
- It seems like work to read it.
Sub-headlines (already discussed) play a huge role in scannability. But, you also need to make sure your paragraphs are short and pithy.
In English classes in school, we were taught to use paragraphs to discuss a central idea. Using that logic, a paragraph could be pretty long. All the “supporting sentences” support the main idea of the paragraph – usually the first line.
In blogging – THAT ISN’T TRUE.
In blogging, a paragraph is a form of flow control. It is a form of pattern interrupt. Long, uninterrupted patterns hypnotize and put people to sleep. People instinctually want to avoid that.
You can use paragraphs to break up flow, to make things more scannable, to make it easier to read, to enhance an idea, etc.
[3B] Post scans tell the story.
Going off the same idea that readers are lazy, you want to make sure that they can SCAN the post and still get the idea. Don’t be conceited enough to think people actually care to read every word you wrote. Most don’t.
So, increase scan-friendliness by:
- Use bullet points and lists where appropriate to do so.
- Strategically bold or italicize certain eye-catching phrases. You can use it to emphasize an idea, or even emphasize something attention-grabbing. Bold, especially, will catch post scanners.
[3C] Strategic Use of imagery.
The chief reason for an image being in your post is to get them to want to READ the post. So, ideally, you’d use an image which communicates an EMOTION and makes the reader curious. You can also have the image communicate a promise (such as the image of a checklist in this post, seeing as the post itself is essentially a checklist).
There’s also an SEO perspective to using images. I often forget to do this myself, but I know it should be done. They are:
- Rename the filename of the image to your keyword phrase. Like [keyword-phrase.png].
- Set the TITLE of the image to the keyword phrase (controllable when you upload to WordPress).
- Set the ALT text to the keyword phrase (also controllable on upload).
Lastly, it is best to use a caption on images. Many times, the images we pick don’t communicate the same ideas to our readers as it did to us when we chose the image. So, by including a caption, not only does it help with SEO, but it ensures a full understanding of the image being used and what it has to do with your post.
[3D] Internal Linking To Relevant Posts In Your Archives
Scan over your post and see if any phrases jump out at you as being relevant to a past post that you wrote. If so, hyperlink that phrase to your past blog post. This helps with your SEO as well as just internal visitor flow.
You don’t need to litter your post with internal links. Maybe just 2-3 times per post. If you really don’t have any phrases in your post which fit the bill, then don’t worry about it.
[3E] External Linking To Relevant Sites/Posts
Linking outside of your own blog is also a good idea. Linking out to authority sites, especially.
[3F] Define Your Meta-Data.
You want to be able to define the meta tags of your content. While it is still up for debate on whether these things matter as much as they used to (from an SEO perspective), the meta description is still relevant. It is that description which will appear in the Google search results, right beneath the headline.
So, you want that meta description to be relevant (from a keyword perspective), but also contain an enticing promise to attract people to actually click and read the post if your post comes up in Google.
Use a plug-in like All In One SEO Pack (or something similar) on your blog. Then, each post will have options for the meta tags. Just be sure to fill out the description, at a minimum.
[3G] Define the Excerpt.
By default, WordPress will auto-fill the excerpt with text from your post. Problem is, it is cut off at a certain character limit, whether it makes sense or not.
However, you can manually define the excerpt and put anything you want into it (even HTML). So, you can manually copy/paste part of your post into the excerpt. Make sure the excerpt is designed to entice people to read. Can you end off the excerpt with a cliff-hanger?
This is even MORE important if you only put excerpts into your blog’s RSS feed.
[3H] Include a “Call To Action”
Each post should leave the reader with a next action step. Realize that each and every post is a form of MARKETING for your blog and your brand. So, like any good promotional piece, give the reader something to DO. Typical CTA’s are:
- Ask them to post a comment.
- Ask them to share the post on social media.
- Ask them to subscribe to your list.
- Tell them where to go for more information.
The call to action usually comes at the tail-end of the post.
So, there you have it. Now, obviously, I left out some of the brain-dead obvious things (like category selection). With this checklist, I wanted to concentrate primarily on those things I see a lot of people forgetting (including myself at times).
-> Download The Checklist <-
As promised, you can download a PDF of the basic checklist.
You might need to right-click and select “Save” to download to your computer.
My recommendation is that you PRINT this and then tape it up somewhere near the computer that you use to blog. The idea is that you can use it as a reference checklist each time you publish a post.
If you do that and put it to use, you will get a LOT more bang out of every post you write than you were before.