Sorry, I got sidetracked and a) didn’t get the next Writing Craft post cleaned up, and b) ended up what was supposed to be a “short” guide to SEO for my co-editor, Jamie, for the Amazing Monster Tales #4: Into the Briny Deep release.
The guide turned out okay! But it’s 2,000 words long and has lots of steps.
Scroll down to the “Minimal effort steps” section for the short beginner version, okay? Then try out the rest of the techniques as you feel comfortable.
More craft next time!
SEO for Authors (2022)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for authors can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Here’s how I do it in 2022. My goal is to create attractive, relevant posts that attract readers who might buy a book (sooner or later), while not using SEO techniques that will become outdated quickly or that take a lot of time.
Marketing and promotions, in general, take a fair amount of time, but they are excellent practice for understanding where your reader is coming from and the great things you can do for them as an author. Your skills as a marketer and promoter will make you a better writer, in the long term!
But it can be a frustratingly complex process.
This guide is designed to help those with the most common website/blogging setup to optimize their blog posts to attract and retain search engine traffic. Don’t think of SEO on your website as an instant turbocharge to your sales, but as a way of centering your presence on the web on a place you control (rather than Facebook, for example).
SEO has two aspects:
- Optimizing your information for human brains.
- Optimizing your information for computer searches.
When in doubt, optimize for human brains and common sense. Google and other search engines are always looking for ways to make their algorithms work more like human brains, anyway!
The first principle of SEO for authors is this: write for the reader. If you look at something in your blog post and go, “Would I care about this, if someone were showing this to me?”
This guide assumes you use some version of WordPress website platform, have a basic knowledge of blogging (like adding images and scheduling posts), and can install a plugin.
We will use the free plugin RankMath SEO for WordPress. (Yoast is also good, but I don’t find it intuitive.) RankMath “scores” your post on many different areas. It can be hard to get a perfect score or even a “green” ranking.
You may need to format images. For a free tool for quick image formatting for people who aren’t graphic designers, try Canva.com. The Canva beginner tutorials are both good and short. Save files as .jpg unless you specifically need something different.
Here are your actual goals:
- For short articles with no table of contents – don’t worry about adding headers and shoot for a score of 65 or better.
- For longer articles, use headers and shoot for a score of 75 or better.
If you are using Elementor, Gutenberg, or another “block-style” blog editor (that is, if you have to drag and drop chunks of stuff onto a page), then your options may be laid out differently. If you see a button with a score on it (“xx / 100”), try clicking that to open up your RankMath menu.
REMINDER: HIT “SAVE DRAFT” OFTEN – NONE OF THIS STUFF BACKS UP AUTOMATICALLY
This goes double if you’re using Elementor! Every time you switch into or out of Elementor, any unsaved RankMath options will vanish.
As a note for later, please don’t worry about errors specifically involving the following RankMath options, which are “nice to have” but which might throw you for a loop and kill your desire to ever use SEO again:
- “Keyword density”
- “Use Content AI to optimize this post”
- Anything in the “Title readability” section
- “Use Table of Contents…”
Let’s get started!
Minimal effort steps
If you’re reading this and you get overwhelmed, but you still want to do a little more than just post, try the following:
- Pick a keyword (see the “Pick a keyword” section below).
- Enter the keyword (see the “Enter the keyword” section below).
- Blog the way you normally would.
- Wherever you almost use that keyword, change it so you exactly use that keyword as much as possible.
- When you have the hang of that and you feel up to more tasks, do the “Pick a goal action & other links” section, then the rest of the sections in order.
- Remember, it’s better to blog and not SEO, than not to blog at all!
Pick a keyword
- Pick a key word or phrase that would be part of what a reader might type in to find something like your post.
- Can be a researched keyword but don’t sweat it.
- Use a different keyword name every time if possible, but don’t sweat it too much.
- Has to be a word or phrase that can be used in your title.
Best picks for authors:
- Story title
- Subgenre niche words + type of work (“Steampunk novel” “Victorian era novel” etc.)
- Guest host names
- Co-promotional names
- Event/venue names
Pick a goal action & other links
- What do you want the reader to do? Sign up for a newsletter, buy a book, spend more time on site (that is, view additional articles), or visit somewhere else?
- Set up a link to reflect that goal (to a newsletter signup page, to a universal Books2Readlink, to additional articles, to another site).
- That link always goes first and last and on most, if not all, images.
- If that link is external, pick a second, internal link where people can go to view more content, if they’re not ready or willing to go to the main content.
- If you have any thought leadership content (that is, where you write about something that isn’t you promoting something), link to your reference material sources to help provide authority to both search engines and readers. One or two links is usually good.
- Treat all hyperlinks as keyword opportunities, either for you or for the place you’re linking to. Make your links like “informative information about SEO at Wikipedia,” not “click here for informative information about SEO at Wikipedia.”
Enter the keyword
- Scroll down under main post area and find the “RankMath SEO” section.
- Make sure you’re in the “General” tab.
- Type the keyword in the “Focus Keyword” field.
- Don’t check the “Pillar Content” box for individual interview posts. If you have a main post that links to other sub-posts (for example, if you publish a serial story on your blog and have one main post and multiple chapter posts), go ahead and check “Pillar Content” on the main post.
- You can only enter one main keyword here on the free version.
Set/optimize the featured image
- A “Featured Image” is a blog image that shows up in preview thumbnails for the post. Embedded images show up inside the post but don’t show up as thumbnails.
- Use both featured and embedded images as possible, but don’t make them the same.
- The “Featured Image” should strictly follow your blog’s featured image pixel settings (1200 x 628 for WordPress) and act as a “teaser” to the post.
- Make sure the keyword is in the image filename, as possible.
- Scroll down to “Featured Image” area on right-hand side of screen, toward bottom.
- Click the image area; you should go to the Featured image popup window. Add media as normal.
- Type in a phrase descriptive of the image in the “Alt Text” field; it should include the keyword and can be relatively long.
- Click “Set Featured Image.”
Set other minor right-sidebar options
- Add tags for important words and phrases that are NOT unique keywords, like series name and author name.
- Select categories as appropriate.
Write the title
- Include your keyword exactly as you entered it in the keyword field.
- Should be 60 characters or less. If longer, the first 60 characters should have the keyword and make it clear what the reader will read/get.
Embed images in the post (optional)
- If you are promoting something, I recommend at least one embedded image that links to the promotion.
- Make sure the keyword is in the image filename, as possible.
- Embedded images can vary in size, but should be around 600 x 900 for a cover image. If you’re not sure what size it is, you can format it in Canva. If it looks blurry, obtain a “high-res” version of the image from your designer.
- Click “Add Media.” You should go to the “Add Media” popup window. Add media as normal.
- Type in a phrase descriptive of the image in the “Alt Text” field; it should include the keyword (say your keyword is “pride and prejudice”; you might use “Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Cover Image”).
- Click “Insert into post.”
- Click on the image.
- In the post menu at the top of the post area, make the image clickable by clicking the link icon and adding a link to the image.
- Optional: edit the link and check the box for “Open link in a new tab.”
- For extra SEO benefits on longer articles, add images after each of your headers with alt tags and links. The images, in series, should tell a “skimmable” story about of the article (for example, a long article about crafts might show an image of the materials, an image of getting started, an image of the work in progress, and an image of the final project).
Write the headers (optional)
- Use headers to help break up longer articles.
- Use header formatting/<h#> tags for all headers (that is, don’t just “bold” them).
- Headers should include the keyword as reasonable.
- The headers, in series, should be a “skimmable” version of the article (for example, a long article about crafts with the keyword “rainbow scarf project” might have headers like “Rainbow Scarf Project: Assembling the Materials,” “Rainbow Scarf Project: Getting Started,” etc.).
- A table of contents is nice on a longer article, but optional and slightly confusing to set up. If you are not using a “block-style” editor, I advise you to skip them unless you’re a whiz.
Write the post content
- Use the keyword in the first sentence of the post.
- If using a Table of Contents, put the intro first, then add the TOC so the intro sentence shows up first!
- The first sentence of the intro should be 150-160 characters long or so, and should sum up the content of the post in a way that appeals to the reader. You will be using this again later!
The first sentence should be focused on the reader. Focus on the reader’s reason to read the post. Don’t worry about clever hooks.
- Nonfiction: write about the reader’s problems.
- Fiction: Let the reader imagine they’re doing something cool or cheesy at the core of the first 25% of the story.
Use the keyword as natural throughout the post, but don’t stress it. It’s more important that the content is good than that you use a lot of keywords.
- Add a text link to your target action (see above) near the beginning (at the end of the intro is pretty easygoing and not pushy) and at the very end of the post.
- If you have pretty buttons, add them near the beginning and very end of the post. You don’t have to add both a button and a text link in the same area.
- Add any other external/internal links as necessary, making sure the hyperlinked text looks like a keyword, and not “click here” or other vague text.
Edit the snippet
- Find the “RankMath SEO” section, “General” tab.
- Find the “Preview” section and click “Edit Snippet.”
- The “Preview Snippet Editor” should appear.
- Leave the “Title” field alone (it’s worth changing in some cases but more effort than it’s worth for most authors).
If you’re feeling feisty, clean up the “Permalink” field:
- The field will be autopopulated with your title.
- If you can shorten that field by removing words (but not the keyword), do so.
- Keep the same formatting, with hyphens between words and no punctuation.
- Example: If the title is “How to Knit Your First Scarf: An Easy Rainbow Scarf Project,” you can shorten the permalink to something like “rainbow-scarf-project.”
- In the “Description” field, paste your first sentence. Edit it down to under 160 characters, making sure the keyword is still in there. Add “Read more here.” at the end. Edit it down to under 160 characters again.
- This is the hardest part, sorry!!!
- Save your snippet for Twitter/social media promos.
- Just close the box when you’re done. There’s no Save button. But save the draft when you’re done!
- Save your draft.
- Preview your draft in webpage and mobile (if available) modes.
- Under “Publicize,” click “Edit” and paste in the snippet.
- Save draft again.
- Schedule and publish as normal.
That was a lot of steps, right? Please do the “Minimal effort steps” section if you’re overwhelmed.
SEO is about using Google and other search engines’ algorithms to attract people who want to hear what you have to say. SEO is a set of tools and techniques (which I’ve barely scratched!) that make sure what you have to say on your website is aligned with how computers (and people) process information.
The benefit of SEO is to cast a “net” around potential readers and draw them in. Before you worry about SEO (or advertising, or promotions, or other complex techniques), make sure you have a newsletter to sign up for or regular work being offered for your readers.
Your marketing and promotional efforts should work roughly in this order:
- Writing, editing, and publishing your work.
- Having a site you control where you can present your work (that is, not social media!).
- Using social media to connect readers to your site and to your work.
- Running a regular newsletter and updating your website to present your work when it’s most timely, collect SEO traffic, and stay connected with your readers.
- Using paid and/or free advertising to bring readers to your site and to your work.
In other words, if you’re not writing, editing, and publishing your work, don’t worry about advertising! And if you get overwhelmed, retreat in an orderly fashion by stopping advertising first, then your blog and/or newsletter, then social media, then your website, and only then stop writing, editing, and publishing! I would including learning how to write, edit, and publish better as part of your core task, too.
The good news is, when you can do SEO, it tends to make your work a little longer-lasting. You may not have the SEO techniques to cast a broad net for readers yet, but any SEO efforts you do will help you over a longer period of time.
Keep writing. The indie publishing game is a long one. Good luck!
(Back to our regularly scheduled post next time…)