A Checklist for Optimizing Your Blog Post from Top to Bottom
When you’ve taken a piece of content through several drafts and feel confident it’s ready to share with the world, it’s tempting to eagerly click the publish button and skip the final check.
But a blog post needs more final checks that go beyond spelling, grammar, and readability. You need to run through your administrative duties in your CMS to ensure it’s loved by search engines and refine your writing at certain parts of the post to delight humans.
I don’t know the secret formula to a perfectly optimized blog post. But while writing my own content I realized I needed a system for quality control. So, I developed a checklist to run through every time I’m ready to publish a post.
This checklist is fairly thorough, feel free to adopt it. Or, it may serve as an inspiration for your own pre-launch checklist.
Match the message of your title and content
We all start off with a working title. Odds are you probably didn’t strike gold with your first swing. So when you iterate on your working title, make sure it includes the message or core idea of your piece.
Sometimes the core idea or thesis of a piece can change as we dive further into our writing and research supporting sources. This final check realigns the message in the title with your finished work.
A great way I’ve found to create a sharper title is to braindump ideas under your working title. Bullet point at least 5 to 10 other title ideas that aim to nail the core idea of the piece.
Make the title captivating
This may seem obvious, but don’t take it for granted. When you’re brainstorming titles, treading the fine line between clickbait and captivating can feel like a tightrope walk.
We want our title to stand out, but we need to ensure it delivers on the promise it makes to readers. A good title makes a strong promise while the article fulfills it.
We spot titles more often in streams on SERPs and news feeds than on websites. So the title needs to stand-alone as an attention-grabber and a true statement that embodies what your piece is about. “True” meaning the title is accurate, and it sets a reasonable expectation for what readers will find in the article.
Fit your target keyword in the title
This one’s a no-brainer. But double check you’re using your target keyword and not a variation by mistake. Read your title out loud to see if it sounds forced. If it does then rearrange and revise until your title rolls off your tongue.
Format the headline (h1’s) in AP style title case
Example of a Title Case Headline for Your Content
Prepositions, conjunctions, and articles should be lower-case unless they’re larger than 3 letters. This is a personal preference. Title case’s formal look stands out, so readers will give it the focus it deserves.
Match the message of your hero image and content
The hero image needs to visually communicate the main point of your piece. It doesn’t matter whether you have an in-house illustrator or you’re creating your own image designs in Canva.
Run it by a few people on your editorial team and ask what their impression is at first glance. If the image sends mixed signals, it may confuse the reader because it sets the wrong expectation. Your hero image should visually communicate the same message as your blog post so readers understand what to expect.
Describe your images in the alt tag
A well-designed hero illustration or helpful inline image communicate what the reader can expect and can reel them further into your post. But what about your programmed audience with no eyeballs?
Google’s crawlers don’t care what the image shows.
Tell the crawlers what’s in each image in the alt tags. And if one of your keyword variations is relevant to an image, include it in the alt text. The alt text helps Google crawlers and people who are visually impaired understand the image’s content in context to the copy, so make it short, specific, and accurate.
Put keywords in the file name
There’s one more thing you need to do to appease the crawlers. Name your image with relevant keywords to your post. I don’t mean stuff every keyword variation before the .jpg or .png.
Name the images with a variation of the post’s title and the core keyword or the keyword most relevant to the image. And don’t mash the name together, separate each word with a dash or underscore so the search engine can read the file name.
Lead the intro with a hook
The introduction needs a hook or a thought-provoking sentence that grabs the reader’s attention. A hook will spark your reader’s curiosity by explaining your core idea and the reader’s incentive. Though, some hooks get away with just using punchy language and some intentional ambiguity. The hook should be one of the leading sentences, so put it near the top of the intro.
Clarify your core idea or objective
I like to keep my introductions to a few short paragraphs. Usually building up to or following the hook, I dedicate one sentence to the main point of the post.
Writers and readers alike need a focal point, so state it clearly in the introduction. The objective should set the parameters and direction of your argument.
Give the reader incentive
Why should the reader keep reading? You need to clearly communicate how your content will make the reader’s life better, and why it’s worth their time. It’s the reason they might read to the end and share your content or the reason they swipe passed your piece after scanning the intro.
List subheadings from greatest to least importance
Don’t forget about structure. It’s easy to neglect structure if you don’t organize your points in the rough draft. For the reader’s sake, put the subsections in descending order of importance. People want the good stuff first.
The most powerful and impactful section should be front and center when the narrative order doesn’t matter (List style post, curated post). But if you need to make points in a particular order (How-to post), disregard this suggestion.
Use your knowledge of your audience or personas to arrange the sections. Give them weight by how much they’ll resonate with your reader. The main point should live up top. The lower rungs should be the less focal, more detail-oriented points. The first section should convince the reader your content’s juice is worth the squeeze and the rest should pour their juice into a glass, add a garnish, and top it off with a mini umbrella. No one wants the mini umbrella first.
Place keywords variations in your subheadings
Work in keyword variations in your headings and subheadings (and, if you haven’t picked up on this already, everywhere else they’d be useful to a search engine).
Maybe you left some demonstrative pronouns in your headings or subheadings (that, this, these, those) that can be replaced with a keyword variation.
Use your best judgment. If it makes sense, fit in another reference to the topic at hand.
Format subheadings (h2’s to h6’s) in AP style sentence case
This is an example of sentence case styling.
There’s a period because it’s a complete sentence. Don’t use one otherwise
This is a personal preference. Sentence case is less formal and easier to read, so the reader understands it’s a sub-topic highlighting the main point of the paragraphs that follow it.
Use short paragraphs and white space for easy reading
The web is different than ink on a page. People don’t just dive in, they scan. You need to format your writing for easy reading, so it’s best to break up your writing into shorter paragraphs.
Organize them under a subheading if it makes your structure more coherent. Shorter blocks of text and whitespace are more easily digested and keep readers hungry for more without stuffing them with information.
Use sources to back up your insights
Sources can add legitimacy and evidence to your strongest opinions. But if you lean too hard on your sources to back up your argument, they can become a crutch. This isn’t a book report, so don’t let sources fill in for original thoughts you can develop on your own.
Organize your argument so it doesn’t stray
This may seem obvious. But it only takes one sentence to stretch way over the bounds of your argument and lose the reader. Your ready-to-publish version should be void of all stray threads to keep the readers focus on the core idea you’re presenting.
Optimize body copy with keyword variations
Integrate more variations of your keywords in the copy. It shouldn’t be difficult since they’re the main focus of your topic. Google’s crawlers will reward you so long as the keywords aren’t being stuffed into the copy. Work them in where they fit naturally.
Deliver an insightful take away rather than a summary
When we’re inspired, writing a blog post is a breeze. Our fingers tap away like a concert pianist. But then we hit the conclusion and, for me at least, it can leave you staring at your keyboard.
I think my first gut reaction is to regress to the bad habits of grade school writing: summarize the points you made in the paragraphs above. I’ve noticed this in other’s writing as well.
But the conclusion shouldn’t rephrase your subheadings at all. Only repackage information from the body if it helps you transition into a new insight. Digest your core idea and the areas explored first, then draw a unique final thought on your topic (think big picture rather than another subheading). Give them a takeaway worth sharing.
Behind the scenes
Title tag (meta-title)
This is the first string of text people will find in a search engine listing and it will appear on the web browser’s tab. So basically, make it short and snappy. Your headline might serve best as the title, or a variation of the headline to fit the 55 to 60 character threshold before Google cuts it off.
As you probably know, this is the description under your SERP listing. You’ve got somewhere near 155 characters to sell your content to people browsing the web. So frontload your description with active verbs and don’t forget to incorporate the keywords that will get it found.
You don’t want to write a post about a systemized checklist to ensure your content is optimized for Google and people, then have the slug in your URL read:
Update the slug in your content management system. Usually, they will automate it for you using the headline (WordPress does this, for example). But always double check you have a slug that matches your content accordingly (and, once again, slap that core keyword in there).
Give credit where credit is due, whether your ghostwriting for your employer or have your own author signature: people will want to know who wrote the delightful content they just read. It also makes your publication look more human when the reader can attach a name and face to the writing.
A date tells people how relevant your content is in their search engine results. You want to keep your publishing consistent so choosing the date is critical for a publication that dishes out content regularly.
Choosing the publication date also keeps you in sync with your editorial calendar. You can measure your rough outline-to-published time and hold yourself accountable for meeting deadlines.
Good gravy, haven’t we talked about this enough? Am I a keyword stuffing advocate in disguise? Here me out on this last bit on keywords:
Whether you’re publishing through:
- Expression Engine
- Or another CMS
Always include your core keyword in the optimization field in your CMS.
Most quality CMS’s will give you feedback on your keyword optimization (whether to amp it up or dial it down) and this field also serves to protect your core keyword from snoopy competitors who want to right-click > view source code to find what you’re aiming to rank for.
My system for ensuring my blog post is optimized in checklist form:
- Match the message of your title and content
- Make the title captivating
- Fit your target keyword in the title
- Format the headline (h1’s) in AP style title case
- Match the message of your hero image and content
- Describe your images in the alt tag
- Put keywords in the file name
- Lead the intro with a hook
- Clarify your core idea or objective
- Give the reader incentive
- List subheadings from greatest to least importance
- Place keywords variations in your subheadings
- Format subheadings (h2’s to h6’s) in AP style sentence case
- Use short paragraphs and white space for easy reading
- Use sources to back up your insights
- Organize your argument so it doesn’t stray
- Optimize body copy with keyword variations
- Deliver an insightful take away rather than a summary
Behind the scenes
- Title tag (meta-title)
- Meta description
- Core keyword
Checklists enable worry free publishing
We all get a rush of excitement after clicking publish. But as sure as the sky is blue, every single writer reads over their piece AFTER it’s published. Nothing kills our confidence more than finding a missed step in SEO or worse, a fluky grammar artifact left over from editing and revising (e.g., “an fluky grammar artifact leftovers from the editing and revising”).
So creating a checklist for your pre-publishing stage is crucial for maintaining your reputation as a writer and marketer.
Every slip is seen: on the front-end by readers and on the back-end by search engines. Relying on a close-to-foolproof system to protect your personal brand with both will position you as a valuable contributor to any publication.
That said, I am not claiming my checklist is perfect. I’m sure there are areas to expand on, either because I missed them, or because optimizing content will change with new mediums. But that’s not a problem, it’s an invitation to revisit this post and expand on it.
(I want this to be a rolling post, so please send me suggestions or feedback that will make it more helpful…)
Originally published at seancarey.co on October 16, 2017.