I’ve had a lot of success with SEO since I started this blog which has taken it to new heights. Although I dreamed of having such numbers in my statistics, I didn’t think that I would be able to hit them this fast.
Over the past year, I’ve streamlined my SEO strategy and process so that I can almost predict how each of my posts will rank and know how to make them rank higher. Since I love sharing my blogging knowledge with y’all, I figured that it’s high time I write about SEO.
Initially, I considered making an SEO guide but I wouldn’t call myself an expert at SEO to write the best guide. All I know is what I do, what I’ve tried, and what works and doesn’t work for me. A lot of my process is cobbled together from existing SEO guides and a few things I’ve learned from experimentation.
I’ve noticed that in all the guides I’ve read, no one shared their behind-the-scenes process. They only talk about what you should do. Because of that, a lot of the tiny details and specifics get missed.
I’m a big believer in sharing processes. I believe that reading about others’ processes is just as helpful as regular guides. So, I want to fill an obvious gap and share my SEO process so that it is easier for you to create your process.
first, a little background
I did not know much about SEO before I started blogging. I had only heard of it and didn’t bother to know it. A couple of years into blogging, I noticed that some of my posts were receiving a bit of steady traffic every day and didn’t know why. When I searched about it, I found out about SEO and was awed.
That set off my SEO nerd phase where I researched SEO and learnt all the basics. Over the years, I learned more and tried out different things. Most of my knowledge is built over years of learning and experimentation.
A while back, I took it further a notch by doing an online SEO course which was really helpful for keyword research guidance. It was the first guide that I understood properly and my keyword research is entirely based on it.
Basically, this is a preface that I don’t have expert knowledge on everything. I’m still learning and trying to do better. But I do know a lot which shows in my blog stats.
Another preface: I don’t do everything that I possibly can. As I’m still blogging as a hobby, I don’t put a ton of pressure on myself to do my best. I do what I can with the time I have and move on.
my SEO strategy/process
1. decide whether to optimize a post for search engines
I don’t choose my post topics based on their potential for search engine traffic. I decide on my posts entirely based on my interests and what I want to talk about. I did try doing keyword research to generate ideas once but I wasn’t enthusiastic about any of them and didn’t feel like writing about them. I find it easier to come up with my ideas and somehow make them work for searches.
I come up with blog post ideas as usual—based on books I’ve read, what I’m interested in, and what I want to share. Once I decide to write a post, I spend a bit of time deciding whether I want to focus on SEO for it.
I don’t optimize all my posts for search engines because not all of them make sense for it. It would be a waste of time to optimize them.
I decide based on the following factors:
- Is the topic something people would search for? A lot of my posts don’t get optimized because of this. For example, wrap-ups, personal updates, and discussions.
- Do I have enough to say about the topic for it to be a worthy article on search results? Generally, I have a lot to say about any topic I choose since I’m passionate about it so this is an automatic yes. I easily write 2k words for most of my posts and live up to my “wordy” brand.
- Does any keyword combination for the topic have a good search volume? I mostly go ahead even if it has a small volume as long as it is something. We never know when a keyword will trend and get tons of traffic. Even if it doesn’t, ranking for more keywords doesn’t hurt especially if it is easily achieved.
- Does what I want to say match the keyword? In other words, does my content idea match the intent of the search keyword?
For the last two points, I do an initial round of keyword research.
I check the search volume for the keyword or title that I have in mind. I don’t check for related keywords at this stage. Generally, if there’s any keyword with good traffic, all the related ones have significant traffic. As long as the one I’m searching for has a good enough number, I take it as a yes.
Next, and probably the most important part of keyword research, is checking the intent. If you don’t know about it, the intent is a big part of SEO. By checking intent, I mean checking whether what people are searching for is what my post will contain.
For example, take this post. People search “SEO strategy” to find out how to create an SEO strategy but I want to talk about my strategy which does not cover a guide to creating one. If you search “SEO strategy” on search engines, all the results are about creating a strategy. Hence, the keyword’s intent does not match my content.
Even if I optimize my post for that keyword, it will eventually not be valued by readers. They will click out of the post soon as it doesn’t deliver answers to their question and search engines will track how fast they left the page. Eventually, my article will get demoted in ranking and all my effort is of no use.
But sometimes, I like to break the rules and try to disrupt things. I am doing basic on-page optimization for this post without caring about the intent. What if people search the keyword without knowing what exactly they want? What if the reason there aren’t other processes on search results is that others didn’t think to share them in the first place?
I would be providing something new and different for the keyword, which would make it attractive. Also, my post’s intent is clear in the title so if people click on it, they know what they’re in for and there won’t be an intent mismatch. We can’t say that something won’t work unless we try it.
The worst that could happen is that this post wouldn’t rank and I’m okay with that. I’m writing this because I want to share my process and I have an audience for it too. It’s not specifically for search engines. So, I’ll write the post and optimize it for SEO just in case.
There are some posts for which I always focus on SEO like reviews, lists, and guides. Whether they have enough search volume and whether I can compete for the keywords doesn’t matter. I do what I can since they’re evergreen keywords that can pick up traffic or trend any time and have the most potential for long-term traffic returns.
My initial round of keyword research takes about 5 minutes. That’s it. One search of my possible title gives me all the info I need and I move on with a quick decision.
2. do keyword research
Let’s say that I decide to focus on SEO for a post based on the 4 points above. My next step is to figure out what keyword I want to focus on. I do some keyword research before writing the post.
When I first started doing keyword research, I would often forget about it and do it midway or after I wrote the content of the post. One time, it so happened that the keyword matching my intent and having the best volume was slightly different than the title I had written with. In order to change to that promising keyword, I had to rephrase most of my content. The meaning of the post slightly changed while the content remained mostly the same. Hence, I had to go through and edit everything. It was time-consuming and vexing. Since then, I’ve made it a point to do research in advance so that I start writing while armed with all the knowledge.
Researching beforehand also allows me to do SEO writing easily. Minimal changes are required during editing as I add most of the SEO requirements while writing.
I don’t do too much research as I’m not literally getting paid for it and I’d rather not fall into a perfectionist black hole. I do enough that I get a sense of keywords and intent, and how valuable my post needs to be. That amounts to researching for 15-30 minutes per post.
Here’s all that I search:
- The article title that I have in mind. Are there any other articles with the same/similar title? What websites are they? Are they businesses or blogs? What’s their DA?
- Related keywords and the above-mentioned data for them.
- The keyword with the highest search volume and reasonable competition that I can compete for. Sometimes, the best keywords have a bunch of business websites with high DAs and I might not be able to compete against them.
- The top posts for promising keywords. I carefully go through the content of the posts and make notes. How much information are they providing? Is there any information gap in the posts? Is there anything I can share that isn’t available in all of them? Can I bring anything new to the table?
The tools I use for keyword research:
- Ubersuggest Chrome plugin is the only keyword research-specific tool that I use. I did use Google’s Keyword Planner for a while but I’m not able to access it without placing ads anymore so I’m making do with Ubersuggest. It works fine for my requirements. I search my title or keywords and the plugin provides the monthly search volume along with similar keywords (although they aren’t very good). I like how it also shows the DA, social shares, and estimated visits from the keyword for the articles that are currently ranking.
- To get alternatives and ideas, I simply check Google’s suggestions. The “people also ask”, related keyword at the bottom, and autocomplete are surprisingly helpful.
- My imagination. I try to put myself in the searcher’s shoes and think of what I would search for the topic.
I note answers, possible keywords, and any insights on my Notion page for the specific post. I have a Notion template with SEO fields for this so I just fill in the sections and it makes my process easier. (You can grab my template from my resource library!)
Most of my keyword research time is spent reading the current top posts for the keywords. I make sure to read them well and see how they’re written, what all they address, how much content is mentioned in each subheading, whether it is beginner friendly, does it answers all the questions a searcher would have, etc.
While my research is to get to a high rank, I also need to stay at the rank. I make sure to do content research as well so that people find my content valuable. If they do, they will stay on my post longer which search engines consider a good indicator to push my post higher. In the end, search engine algorithms aim to provide the best results for searches. Hence, a big part of my SEO strategy is to make sure that my content is the best.
Other SEO things like the appropriate placement of keywords are simply indicators to tell search engines what the post is about. They are not indicators of quality. More keyword mentions do NOT equal better ranking without good quality content.
3. write the post
Before my post, I make sure to have the following information that comes from either my ideation phase or research. I note all of them on my Notion page.
- My main keyword and possibly some alternate keywords that I can sprinkle in.
- The intent of my article.
- The content that I want to share.
- What extra content I should add to make my post stand out.
I do have a drafting phase where I outline my post and write a rough draft on my Notion page before I start writing my post for real. I do it during the initial ideation phase or after keyword research. Either way, I don’t think about SEO while drafting so I’m not going to talk about it more.
I pick one of my title ideas and start writing. I may edit the title while writing or after writing the post. But to start with, I just pick one of them. I weirdly don’t like writing a post without a title written on the top. It also helps with my SEO score calculation (I will come to that in a bit).
Since I’ve been practising SEO for a while and have got the hang of optimization, SEO writing comes easy to me now. While writing, I naturally add keywords, links, etc. I don’t have to keep reminding myself about them.
To evaluate my post’s SEO score, I use the RankMath plugin. I tried Yoast SEO when I started this blog but it was frustrating for me. When I switched to RankMath, I noticed an immediate jump in my posts’ SEO quality and they started ranking faster. RankMath provides a few handy checklists in the WordPress editor which makes things very easy. As I write the post, it automatically checks off whatever SEO task I’m done with like adding keywords in the title, introduction, etc.
After writing the post and before proofreading/editing, I look at the checklist and see if I can add/improve anything. This way, I can check off more SEO tasks while proofreading and editing. I aim to have a score above 75 by the time I’m done with written content.
4. add finishing touches
This step includes the few extra tasks that aren’t technically “writing”.
- I add an image with the keyword in the title and alt tag. It is generally the Pinterest image for the post. Hence, it serves a dual purpose. Plus, if the post is featured with a snippet in search engine results, the image containing the keyword gets shown in the snippet as well. If it is an image containing the title of the post, it will be a bit more appealing.
- I edit the search engine snippet title and description through RankMath options. Search engine algorithms can opt to use our original title or different description rather than what we provide. But, it can be helpful to provide a different title and a custom description containing the keyword as it may be more attractive for search results. Sometimes, I just want my post to have a less clickbaity title and still attract clicks in search results.
- I try to make sure that my RankMath score is 85+ and that I’ve checked off all that I can. Having a 90+ score is better but I don’t try for 95+. I don’t think there’s much difference between 91 and 100 when it comes to search engine algorithms so I don’t worry about checking off everything. It won’t help the post make leaps over competitors. As long as enough indicators are in place, I focus on the content. Some of my posts have a score between 70 and 85 but I let them be because I know that I’ve done enough for the keyword based on the competition.
Going against most SEO guides and tips, I ignore the keyword density point in RankMath. For almost all my posts, it is highlighted in red and RankMath says that my keyword density is low. As long as I have the keyword mentioned 4-5 times, I don’t worry about it. I know that this is a key thing according to everybody but I’d rather my post reads more naturally rather than stuff my sentences with the keyword(s). It’s alright if my post takes longer to rank because of the intent being less obvious.
On-page SEO is not enough for the post to rank. Now that the on-page indicators are in place, I make it easier for search engine crawlers to FIND the post.
Sitemaps generally help with this but there’s a caveat to them. Your website should be big enough already such that crawlers come to your site often and will check your sitemap. While RankMath helps with its features (notifies search engines when your sitemap is updated), I don’t like to depend on it. I’ve noticed that it still takes time.
Hence, I link the post in multiple places so that it will be found and indexed faster. The regular steps (that most bloggers do) work for this but you have to do them a little better.
Here’s what I do:
- Share the post on Twitter with the title or keyword in the tweet.
- Pin the post on Pinterest with the image I’ve already added to the post. Add the keyword in the Pin’s title, description, and a couple of hashtags.
- Add links to the new post in related older posts of mine. This especially helps if the older posts are already ranking and receiving search traffic. The link and new post will be picked up by crawlers faster.
- Sometimes, if I have the time and remember, I manually request the new post to be indexed on Google Search Console. I think it helps but I’m not completely sure.
6. wait and watch
SEO is all about the long game. You won’t get quick returns—especially if your site is new—but when you do, they will sustain for a long time. Search traffic is slow to pick and slower to die down (if it does). If you’re lucky, it just keeps growing.
When I had fewer posts ranking, it took my posts 2+ months to get any search traffic. The climb was quite slow.
Now that I have other posts ranking high, newer posts get search traffic pretty fast. It takes around a month on average. If the keyword has lesser competition, my posts rank within two weeks. If the keyword has high competition, it takes 2 months or more.
So wait and be patient. Or better yet, move on to other posts and work on them. Don’t be hasty to label your post as a failure or make frequent changes to try to make it rank faster.
7. update the post when required
Although I try to update at least one post a month, I don’t really stick to it. I don’t have the time to worry about updating posts with all that goes on in my life. I update posts only if I have a new idea more content to add, or if I have free time.
Some examples of my updates:
- Adding more items to my listicles.
- Switching the listed items in my lists.
- Adding new information in guides if I think of any.
- Seeing the search keywords that lead to my blog and checking whether my post has content to satisfy that search. If not, I add it.