Serializing content isn’t something new to the Internet. Just about 150 years ago, for example, Dostoyevsky serialized his novel, Crime and Punishment, into the Moscow Journal, The Russian Herald. By putting excerpts of his novel into a newspaper installment-by-installment, he created a hungry base of avid readers. In the lingo of 2017 Silicon Valley, he “repurposed” his content.
Now, Dostoyevsky didn’t have Google or Bing. He had Russian winters and Tsarist autocracy to cope with. I wonder if he ever looked up at the Russian sky and wondered whether the Tsarist censors would allow him to say this, or that, and/or worried about whether the editors at The Russian Herald would put his excerpts in prime places. Or whether he wondered if anyone would read The Russian Herald, and if so, whether they’d be so excited about his installments that they’d purchase Crime and Punishment when it was published in its entirety.
Nothing is really new in publishing; it’s the forms that are new, after all. Today, as authors and bloggers, we might divide our content into short blog posts or articles. Or, we might comment on a relevant topic, such as the ethics of punishment, as a segue for our readers to our larger novel or work of nonfiction. It’s just that today many readers go first to Google rather than the newspaper.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the 21st-century equivalent of convincing the algorithmic “editors” at Google or Bing to feature your content on relevant topics to readers. There’s some good news here. Whereas Dostoyevsky had to contend with Tsarist censors and unpredictable newspaper editors, we have to contend with the algorithms of search engines, which are far more predictable. Is SEO easy? Well, no, but it is understandable, and you can leverage its logic to help your blog post reach the top of Google.
Here is a simple process on how to SEO a blog post.
Start with Content
First, whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you can repurpose your content into a blog post. Just like Dostoyevsky, you can take an excerpt from your book and clip it into a short-form piece. For nonfiction, it’s a bit simpler, as you can take a chapter and literally optimize it into a blog post. Let’s say you’ve written a book on men’s fashion. Sections of your chapter on “formal dressing” might be optimized into a post on “how to tie a tie” or “tips on selecting the best tuxedo.” Or, let’s say you’ve written a fantasy novel about aliens invading America to set up a slave state. You can optimize a chapter (or an excerpt from a chapter) into a blog post on “alien abductions” or “will aliens be benevolent?” Or you can comment on the more general issue of whether or not there is alien life, and connect that to your fictional tale of aliens in America.
Your first step is therefore to identify a chapter or short excerpt from your book that can stand alone as a piece of content. In fact, a chapter is probably too long. Blog posts should be short — anywhere from five paragraphs to twenty is more than enough. Think “short newspaper article,” not “long-form prose essay.”
Identifying Keyword Targets
Second, with the “rough draft” of content to repurpose in hand, your next step is to look for connection points between what people search for and your content. Google and Bing are driven by search queries. It all starts with a query entered by a user. So, for example, a user will literally type into Google, “How to tie a tie,” or “Will aliens be benevolent?” A quick way to leverage Google is to discover what people are searching for. Go to Google and start typing. Pay attention to the “search suggestions.” Here’s a screenshot (for example), for “Will aliens be…”
You can see that people are concerned with whether they’ll be hostile, cruel or kind, so hold that thought. Or, you can go to a nice free tool at SERPS.com. Try typing in keywords such as “tuxedo,” or “men’s formal wear,” or “how to tie a tie,” and this tool will spit back at you keyword volumes, which tells you how many searches for a particular word have taken place in a given timeframe.
Alternatively, try out hashtagify.me and use this tool to poll Twitter. Typing in “alien,” for example, reveals keywords like UFO, Alien Covenant, and SciFi. Step two, in other words, is to research the keywords that connect your future blog post from the topics embedded in your book excerpt to the topics people are searching for on Google.
Pay attention in particular to trending topics, as it’s easier to rank for something new vs. something evergreen. If a new comet is hitting the earth, or there’s an eclipse coming, those “trending topics” will be easier to rank for than a more evergreen topic, such as whether alien life exists or not. In the current climate, for example, an author whose novel deals with sexuality might have something to say concerning sexual harassment and the psychologies behind it. “The trend is your friend,” they say. For nonfiction as well, a trending topic such as whether skinny or broad ties are in fashion will be easier than an evergreen topic such as “men’s formal wear.” Identifying something that’s relatively less competitive is the take-away here.
Third, with your target keyword or search query in hand, it’s time to optimize your blog post. “Less is more,” so I recommend you target one – and only one – search query per blog post. For example, optimize on “how to tie a bow tie” or “business casual-athleisure hybrids” (yes, that’s a thing), but not both. If it’s aliens you’re after, optimize on “recent alien sightings in California,” and not also on whether “aliens are actually green” (no one really knows). There’s a Nigerian proverb that says, “Man who chases two mice, catches none.” Try to catch one keyword query with your blog post, not more.
HTML Tags: the Language of Google
Returning to optimizing your blog content, it’s time to dig into HTML tags. HTML is the language of the Internet, and Google pays specific attention to whether your blog post contains the target keywords that are entered by the searcher. Google has a new 2018 edition of its SEO Starter Guide. The guide explains what to do, and it’s excellent.
Let me summarize the guide’s most basic point about HTML tags. Tags are the hidden HTML structure behind what’s visible to the browser. If you want to bold Nike running shoes, for example, the HTML code will be:
<strong>Nike running shoes</strong>
Fortunately, your Squarespace or WordPress will do the heavy lifting for you — you don’t have to write the code yourself; you just select “bold” from the menu.
That said, you want to take your target keyword and write:
- a keyword-heavy TITLE tag, such as “How to Tie a Bow Tie the Right Way.” It should be less than 59 characters.
- a keyword-heavy META DESCRIPTION tag that explains your blog post. It should be less than 155 characters.
- a keyword-heavy IMG ALT for an image such as ALT= “Photo of a man tying a bow tie.”
- and a few other tags, such as headers, links, strongs, or ems (italics) that, again, focus on your keywords.
With your optimized tags in hand, write keyword-heavy text for your blog. Don’t overdo this, however. You don’t want to destroy your well-written prose, you don’t want to violate the rules of good grammar, and you don’t want to “stuff” so many keywords into your content that Google hands you a penalty. A good rule of thumb is enough occurrences of the keyword in the content so that, if read aloud, it’s just a tad emphatic, but not so emphatic that a human reader would give up and stop reading. Well-done SEO content is invisible to the reader, yet Google hears the SEO target loud and clear. It’s an art as much as a science. A good trick here is to take some of your target search queries, google them, and see what ranks for them already. Mimic some of the content and structure, but dare to be a bit different, too.
In terms of length, shoot for about three-to-five paragraphs, although the trend is to favor longer-form content on the Web these days. The dilemma there is that the length of a piece can come into tension with the single focus on one, and only one, keyword query. A good blog post (as opposed to a long-form post) should be readable in about five minutes or less by a human reader. Anything more and you’re optimizing not a post but long-form content. The rules are the same, but it’s harder to optimize something that’s bigger because the keywords are “diluted” by the extra content. “Less is more” is a good mantra when writing a blog post for SEO.
Fifth, once you’ve identified a keyword target, optimized some content you already had on hand (or written something from scratch) by placing the keywords in the right tags, and written prose that’s heavier than “normal” English but not so heavy as to be obtrusive, it’s time to publicize your post.
Even Dostoyevsky had to wrap his latest installment and mail it off to the editors at The Russian Herald. Post to your blog by “publishing” it to WordPress, Squarespace, or whatever platform, and – if possible – make a one-click link from the home page to the new blog post. This will help Google see it, and index it rapidly. For extra credit, visit Google’s Search Console, then click “Crawl,” and “Fetch as Google” by entering the exact URL of your post to alert Google to your new magnum opus.
(You’ll need to verify your website to Google to do this, if you haven’t already done so. You should do so, if you’re serious about SEO.)
Once you’ve submitted your post, wait a few days and use the site: command on Google, plus your URL, to verify that it’s been indexed by Google.
For example, if you type site: https://www.baipa.org/pronoun-is-shutting-down/ into Google, you’ll see a summary, indicating that Google “knows” about this content. Here’s a screenshot:
Promoting Your Blog Post
Sixth and finally, it’s time to promote your blog post. (Note: a subsequent post will go into “Off Page” SEO for a blog post in greater detail.)
In and of itself, the best “On Page” SEO optimization won’t propel your post to the top of Google. That’s a function not only of the “On Page” optimization, but also the “Off Page” optimization. “Off page” has to do primarily with links, but also includes social media shares and freshness.
Contact any friends, associates, or others you may know and ask them to link to the post from their blogs or websites. Social media has a role as well – tweet out your blog post to your followers, and try to get “influencers” in the relevant niche to tweet it, share it on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. The more links that post to it from other websites, the better it will rank. That said, the total links to your blog (as a whole) will also trickle down to an individual post, which is why a “one-click” link to the new post from your home page is an easy trick to promote your new post. Blogging for SEO, after all, is a team sport – keywords, “On Page” optimization, internal links from your home page, and link-building from external sites. It’s the aggregate sum of the parts that gets you success, but it all starts with keyword definition and good “On Page” SEO.