SEO Checklist for Blog Posts: Generate Relevant Leads from Content
Using an SEO checklist for blog posts helps you create marketing content that’s designed to rank high on search engines, target the right readers, and attract relevant leads.
The search engine optimization practices you’ll find in our checklist show you step-by-step how to write blog posts that meet your audience’s information needs. Get your company’s thought leadership in front of the people who are searching online for a solution like yours.
Search algorithms developed by giants like Google are constantly evolving to best meet the searcher’s query. The quick tricks that worked a decade ago, like keyword stuffing and link spamming, will not get your website on the first page these days and will negatively impact your rank and site reputation. Modern SEO is all about understanding the meaning behind search queries and providing the answer as directly as possible.
SEO success comes down to not only what’s written on the page but also the technical setup and overall user experience (UX) of your blog.
We created this SEO checklist to use during our own content creation process. It’s helped us get top rank for queries searched by the people most likely to need our services, such as “inbound SDR,” “SDR metrics,” and “cold call script for software sales.”
Like most aspects of marketing, it takes time for an SEO content strategy to pay off. You can see from the reports above how a strong SEO strategy has helped us improve our rankings, visibility, and inbound lead generation over the past year and a half.
Our B2B marketing experts apply these best practices when providing content marketing services to clients, so search engine optimization is interwoven into the content campaigns we deploy.
Some of the primary goals that this SEO checklist will help you accomplish:
- Help search engines understand your blog content
- Rank higher in the search results (or even in the #1 spot)
- Establish your company as thought leaders in your industry
- Get relevant prospects to find your content (and convert to opportunities)
Download our free interactive SEO checklist, and start creating blog content specifically designed to rank well and increase visibility.
Our checklist covers 4 key areas: keyword research, content creation, visual support, and on-page optimization. We suggest keeping a copy of the checklist attached to each work-in-progress blog post and assigning each section of the checklist to the appropriate person on your marketing team.
This checklist will help your marketing team understand the “why” behind each blog post, stay ahead on keyword research and industry trends, and monitor the work in progress.
#1 KEYWORD RESEARCH
How to do keyword research for content marketing
Choosing a primary keyword is the cornerstone of writing optimized blog content. Identify the exact search term you want to rank for — the words users should type into a search engine to find your blog post. Start by narrowing down your topic and then build a list of relevant keywords you could potentially target with your new post.
This section of the checklist is usually completed by a digital specialist or the content specialist writing the piece. Assign these keyword research tasks to somebody on your team who has strong SEO knowledge and understands buyer psychology.
1. Build Your Initial Keyword List
Start by exploring Google to see exactly how people are searching for your chosen topic. Build out your keyword list using the Google autocomplete function as well as the related searches suggestions at the bottom of the SERP (search engine results page).
Gather at least 10-15 potential keywords for your topic. Blog posts are an opportunity to target highly targeted long-tail keywords, search terms that typically contain three or more words. Long-tail keywords are usually searched less often than broad ones, but they allow you to target your intended audience more precisely.
For example, the term “cold calling scripts” is searched 501-850 times per month, while the more targeted keyword “cold calling scripts for software sales” is searched 11-50 times per month.
Still, the more specific keyword is a better fit for our audience and helps us target our ideal buyers. Long-tail keywords are generally easier to rank for too. And if you provide valuable enough content, you can potentially rank for the more broad keyword (i.e. “cold calling scripts”) as well.
Expert SEO Tip:
The Keyword Suggestions tool on Moz is an excellent resource for building out your initial keyword list.
This feature provides hundreds of keyword suggestions based on your search term. The results can be filtered by search volume, relevancy, whether it’s a question, by inclusion or exclusion of words, and more.
2. Assess Keyword Value
Once you have an initial keyword list, it’s time to determine which search term is most worth your time. The primary tool we use for this section is Moz’s Keyword Explorer, which gives us the details we need to analyze keyword value.
The metrics we review for each keyword include:
- Search volume: How many times is the specific term searched each month on average?
- Difficulty: Estimates how difficult it will be to outrank other pages appearing for the term
- Organic CTR (click-through rate): Estimate the percentages of clicks that go to organic results for the term (taking into account other SERP features like ads and answer boxes)
- Search Intent: A rating based on your impression of how well the search term aligns with the goals of your blog post
Search intent is a major factor for SEO. It’s a tricky thing to quantify. So for our purposes of choosing the best keyword, we give it a simple 1, 2, or 3 rating based on our initial impression and what we see on the SERP for the term.
The next section of the checklist is entirely about search intent and will help you narrow down your top keywords.
3. Determine Search Intent
Search intent is the underlying informational need behind a user’s choice of search terms. The final step in choosing a primary keyword is to determine what people are looking for when they search a specific term.
In many cases, you can infer search intent just by looking at the keyword itself. For example, there’s a difference between Googling “B2B marketing funnel” and “B2B marketing funnel template.” If you target the “template” keyword, you better include some sort of template the reader can use (because that’s what they’re likely searching for).
The best way to identify search intent is by looking at the content that’s already ranking high for the keyword.
A search engine’s main goal is giving users the best experience possible by providing the most relevant answers to their search terms. The top ranking web pages on the SERP are the best indicator for search intent, because Google has determined that those pages provide the best user experience and most relevant answers.
Now, which of your top three keywords is the most fitting for your topic, target audience, and the content you plan to write?
Expert SEO Tip: Once you’ve chosen a primary keyword for your post, hold onto those other keywords you found. These variations can be used as secondary keywords throughout your post, and using related keywords throughout the page helps search engines understand the contents and relevancy of your page.
#2 CONTENT CREATION
How to write SEO optimized content
The two most important considerations for writing optimized content are (1) understanding why you’re writing the content and (2) making sure your content is properly structured for SEO.
The content creation section of our checklist ensures all strategic SEO elements are addressed before and after your writer drafts the post. This section should be completed by the person actually writing your blog post.
1. Before Writing: Content IntentBefore beginning a post, your writer should understand the reason for writing the piece, what your readers are looking for from the content, and how you could outrank search competitors for your keyword.
- What is your business case for writing this blog post? Explain how the topic and the keyword’s search intent relates to the offering you’re promoting. Include which buyer personas you’re targeting and how the blog post will aim to persuade them. For example, a CRM software company might create a blog post about sales team metrics to target sales leaders and show them how the software makes tracking sales metrics easy.
- How are your search competitors approaching the topic? Look at the top ranking pages for this keyword and decipher the strategy behind their content. If they’re promoting an offering similar to yours, how can you position yours better? Learn from their strategy, identify areas for improvement, and understand what type of content is performing well on the SERP.
- How will your post meet your readers’ information needs? Once you have a working title and a solid understanding of what users are looking for, think about how to make your blog post the most reliable and comprehensive answer to their question. Identify any of your past blog posts that could be tied in as additional resources for your audience.
The before writing section of the checklist helps you plan out a blog post that’s more valuable than the other pages ranking, so you can potentially outrank them.
2. After Writing: Content Structure
Once the post is drafted, your writer should do a thorough review to make sure they’re following all SEO best practices. The content structure section of the checklist largely focuses on user experience and readability, as well as technical elements that act as indicators to search engines.
Using correct heading hierarchy helps readers and search engines understand the flow of information on your page and how it’s all related. HTML tags like <h1> and <h2> denote headings and subheadings on your page, and should utilize the keywords you’re targeting.
- H1: An H1 heading, marked by the h1 tag, is used for the main title of the page. Every page should only have one H1. For blog posts, this is your post title or headline and should contain (or preferably start with) your primary keyword phrase.
- H2: H2 headings are used for titles of the main sections on your page. The h2 markup tag tells search engines that this is a new section of content.
- H3: H3 headings are used for subsections within your main sections. The h3 markup tag tells search engines that the subsection falls under a main H2 section and includes information related to the larger section it’s under.
Your section headings should have a logical flow and assist your visitors in navigating the page. Heading hierarchy ranges from H1 to H6, and each type of heading is considered a subsection of the one it’s placed under. You can have multiple H3’s under an H2 heading, multiple H4’s under a single H3 heading, and so on.
Subheadings are an opportunity to use secondary keywords, which can increase your page’s relevance to the topic and help you capture additional keyword opportunities.
Ideal blog post length for SEO
The best blog post length for SEO is around 2,000 words, according to research by HubSpot and other studies done over the past decade. And we recommend writing no less than 300 words to ensure your post has sufficient SEO value.
However, the best advice we can give about blog post length is: it depends.
The ideal length for your audience, topic, and keyword will differ. One way to figure out the best post length for your particular blog is by finding the average word count from your top 10 blog posts that perform best in search.
For our posts on the EBQ blog, we find that articles around 1,700 words in length tend to perform best for us. We use this average as a guideline for our blog content. But the appropriate length can vary depending on what we’re writing about or the search intent behind the keyword we’re targeting.
Find your ideal blog post length and use it as a benchmark, but don’t let it limit your writers.
Blog writing format
Blog posts should be written for readers who skim — because the majority of them do.
We recommend keeping paragraphs short with 4 lines of text or fewer, so the information is easy to scan. And break up big blocks of text by using lists, quotes, and other visuals to keep information concise.
These optimizations primarily relate to the user experience of your post. When your content is user-friendly and straightforward, visitors are less likely to give up and hit the back key immediately. A first-rate user experience can improve your bounce rate and can even make your content more shareable.
Internal and external links
Include links in the blog post to other relevant content you’ve published. Internal links help search engines make connections between different pages on your site, understand what your site is about, and understand your site’s relevancy for the keyword(s) you’re targeting.
Linking to your other blogs posts and informational pages also encourages readers to interact more with your website and explore your content for additional resources.
Each post should contain external links to credible web pages as well — we recommend 2-5 external links in each post. This gives your readers more information on your topic, and it also contributes domain authority from the external site to your site. Readers and search engines can see that you’re backing up your claims with reliable sources. Just make sure you’re not providing links to your direct competitors.
Have you downloaded our free interactive SEO checklist yet? Learn how to create blog content specifically designed to rank.
#3 VISUAL SUPPORT
SEO Image Optimization
Optimize images and other visual elements for search by using targeted keywords in file names, alt text, and captions, and by achieving a speedy loading time for your page.
Your graphic designer, or the individual in charge of the UX (user experience) of your blog, should complete the visual support section of the checklist.
- File names: Image files names should concisely describe what the image depicts. Use primary and secondary keywords applicable to the graphic, but avoid keyword stuffing. Try to keep file names short with no more than 5 words.
- Alt text: Alt text is the descriptive text that appears when you hover over an image. It’s an important feature for accessibility, allowing visitors who use devices like screen readers to understand your use of images. Alt text is another indicator that helps search engines understand your content, and using alt text properly helps you rank in image search.
- Image Size: Your image files should be sized at the actual width and height they appear on your page. Page speed is an important technical SEO factor, and keeping graphic files as small as possible helps your blog page load faster.
All original graphics in your blog post should reinforce your brand style and colors. And any graphics borrowed from outside sources should include a link to the source.
The graphics in your blog post should provide extra context for readers to help them understand the information on the page. Incorporating interactive elements, as well as branded graphics that can be saved and shared, will make for a more memorable page experience.
Before completing their section of the checklist, your designer should do a thorough review of the page to make sure all visual elements and styling work well for mobile and other screen sizes. And look for any potential improvements to the overall user experience.
#4 ON-PAGE SEO
On-page optimization techniques
The on-page optimization section of our SEO checklist covers all the technical elements you need to review and finalize before publishing.
Your digital specialist should review each of these items, collaborating with the appropriate people on your marketing team to ensure all content and graphic elements are fully optimized.
- Page title: The SEO page title, denoted by the <title> HTML tag, is the title that will be displayed in search results. Your SEO title should include (or preferably start with) your primary keyword. For blog posts, the SEO title is often the same as the H1 title and should at least be similar. There are sometimes reasons to make an SEO title different from the H1 that shows on the page, depending on the user experience you’re aiming for. Keep SEO titles between 50 and 60 characters to fit Google’s maximum 600px width for SERP titles (this length varies by screen size too).
- Meta description: A meta description is the blurb that appears on the results page under your post title. The description should include your primary and secondary keywords. It’s meant to set expectations for users about what they’ll find on your webpage, so keep it informative yet brief. Meta descriptions should be between 120 and 155 characters in length.
- URL optimization: The URL for your post should either be your exact primary keyword or some close variation of it. We recommend keeping URLs short and straight forward.
- CTA section: Every blog post should include an attention-grabbing call-to-action somewhere on the page to tell your readers what you want them to do next. Your technical SEO person should work with your content writer to craft a relevant CTA. We typically include a CTA to our contact page at the bottom of each post, or we include a CTA to download a relevant content piece if applicable.
If you use WordPress as your CMS (content management system), we recommend the Yoast plugin for setting up these SEO elements. We use Yoast to set up our SEO page titles and meta descriptions, which allows us to easily stay within the recommended character limits.
The Yoast WordPress plugin provides all sorts of helpful insights into the optimization of your page. You can input your primary keyword, and the plugin will analyze how optimized your post is for the search term and provide recommendations for improvement.
Capture featured snippets
Featured snippets are the answer boxes you see on Google, which are meant to provide a quick answer for users. Featured snippets are prime real estate for content creators looking to stand out on the SERP.
The easiest way to capture a featured snippet is to give a clear and authoritative definition for your primary keyword, especially in the introduction or final conclusion on your page. This helps Google understand the main topic of your page and determine whether you give a useful explanation.
There are different types of featured snippets you can target with your content:
- Paragraph (most featured snippets are paragraphs)
Your content writer is responsible for structuring their post in a way that targets featured snippets. However, the digital person on your team should review the potential for featured snippets once more before posting and make any suggestions that may help your chances of ranking.
It’s important we mention one significant featured snippet update made by Google in January of this year. With this algorithm update, pages appearing in the featured snippet for a search term no longer appear as an organic result on the first page of the SERP too.
Since the update, many SEO experts no longer view featured snippets as an ultimate goal for content creators. You might want to skip targeting the featured snippet, depending on how high you can rank organically below it.
One study by Ahrefs looked at 100,000 keywords and found that featured snippets capture less than 9% of clicks on the SERP. This makes sense, as the answer box is meant to quickly answer a question without further reading. You can see that most clicks go to the top organic search result, whether or not there’s a featured snippet.
If you’re unlikely to rank in one of those top organic spots, targeting a featured snippet can still be a smart strategy. When your primary keyword is relatively competitive, claiming the featured snippet provides better visibility and CTR than landing at the bottom of the SERP.
Set up engagement tracking
The last item on our SEO checklist involves the technical setup of any engagement tracking tech you might use. For us, this typically includes setting up page scoring in our marketing automation platform, Salesforce Pardot, as well as setting up goals in Google analytics for downloadable content.
You can read more about setting up a page scoring system in Pardot in our B2B Marketer’s Guide to Pardot. But to summarize, a visitor’s lead score increases depending on the pages they visit on your website.
Some blog posts might contribute a higher score than others. For example, a sales strategy blog post might increase a prospect’s score by fewer points than a blog post about the pros and cons of outsourcing sales. Certain search terms show stronger buying intent than the others, so set up your scoring system accordingly.
Engagement tracking features like this are available in other platforms, such as HubSpot and Marketo, too. Feel free to reach out to our email automation specialists any time if you need some help setting this up.
Tracking engagement helps you understand how well your post is performing and identify any improvements to your content strategy and keyword targeting.
This checklist item is the final step in building an optimized content piece. After you’ve set up and reviewed all the technical SEO components of your post, you’re ready to publish!
Optimize, re-optimize, rank
Once your blog post is live, monitor rankings for your targeted keywords and organic traffic to the page. We suggest revisiting posts later on and testing out further optimization. You should always keep an eye out for ways to improve search visibility, and even small tweaks like changing a subheading or adjusting formatting can make a difference.
Remember that the overall user experience is a top priority. Everything that goes into a blog post — the initial topic research, the visual elements, technical setup, and the content itself — impacts the experience.
Understanding search intent behind keywords and providing easily accessible answers will win you favor with both readers and search algorithms. It starts with empathy for your audience and their informational needs.
If you’re looking for more guidance, our content marketing specialists at EBQ have created SEO-driven content for a variety of organizations and audiences. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team if you have questions or need help executing your content marketing strategy.