You can find hundreds (maybe even thousands) of experts out there who will assure you that you need an author blog. You absolutely, 100% have to create a blog. If you don’t, your book won’t sell. Blog writing is the only way.
Let’s clarify that the above is nonsense. You absolutely can be a successful author without a blog. Particularly with social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube, you can find novel ways to reach your audience.
Should You be writing a Blog?
I’ve written a bit about blogging in the past. We’ve covered platform options to help you decide how to blog and the many benefits of relationship building through guest blogging. But we haven’t talked much about the strategy and benefits of blogging. Just saying ‘it helps build your audience’ is meaningless. Authors considering blog writing need a compelling reason.
So here it is (in two parts):
- 51% of website traffic comes from organic search
- Blogs are the best way to apply SEO practices to your site
If the above points don’t quite jive with you, stick with me here. By the end of this article, we’ll establish the benefits of blog writing and (ideally) help you decide if blogging is right for you.
Why Search Results Matter
Think about how challenging it is to earn new readers. Your friends and peers are easy to convince—they’re already invested in your work. But a stranger needs to be compelled to even consider your book. Doing so means instilling confidence that your book is worth their time.
Enter search engines. Whether conscious or not, we ascribe a great deal of confidence in the first few results Google serves us. Let’s say you needed to change a light switch in your house. You can hire an electrician or you can jump on the web and watch a video.
When your search populates results, do you scroll down and jump to page 7 to find a video? Nope. You click (most likely) on the first, second, or third link. Because you trust the search engine to provide accurate and trusted results first.
And that’s why winning SEO for your author website matters. If a new reader is searching the web and finds your site high on the list, there is a really good chance they’ll check out your site. Even more important, if the reader is searching for something that interests them and you’re an authority on the subject, your blog can be the gateway to introduce this new reader to your work.
Grabbing Reader Attention
If we can agree that appearing high in search results is a good thing for your website, the next question becomes: how do you appear on Google’s first page?
Writing with an eye toward Search Engine Optimization, also called SEO writing, can land you a spot at the top with Google and is a tried-and-true method of engaging new audiences. The process goes like this:
- Write/design content to SEO specifications
- Promote this content to your existing audience
- Google will see that people (your audience) is viewing the content AND that the content is well optimized
- Thanks to your careful design, use of keywords, and strong meta description, Google can pair your content with more searchers
There’s a lot more in the details, but broadly that’s how SEO is supposed to work. Your job is to find ways to create pieces of content (in this case, blog posts) that are interesting to readers and optimized well for search engines.
SEO Article Basics
First thing I suggest doing is to establish a theme you’ll write about for the majority of your posts. For example, if you’re a science fiction writer and you’re really interested in the science behind your stories, you might blog about the space where science and fiction meet. With a general theme, you’ll be ready to start writing ideas for individual pieces of content.
Make a list. Trust me. I keep a spreadsheet of ideas. Anytime I come across something and think “Lulu users might find this interesting” I add it to the list. Most of the ideas I jot down there will never see the light of your screen. But it’s the act of compiling the ideas that matters.
I talked a little about strategy for researching your topic a few weeks back, but let’s really dig into what SEO keyword research means.
The number one keyword is a statement about your topic. Let’s say you’re still that Sci-Fi writer and you want to talk about foldable screen technology. Lot’s of companies ended 2019 talking about this and we’ll imagine it’s a concept you’ve already imagined in your books.
Start with an incognito browser so Google isn’t using your search history to flavor the results. Then perform a lot of searches for various terms. Write down every word and phrase your search! If you search for something and find a great article covering the topic well, note that URL and consider the keyword that got you there. You will want to avoid searches that lead to great content, because it will be hard to unseat that content.
But if you do a search and don’t find much that fits the question, you’ve found a potential topic or angle for your blog!
I did a few searches and noticed “foldable screens in fiction” brought up only one specific article from The Verge about this topic. This might be a sub-topic you could discuss in a blog post. You’ve got ample source material to reference and a unique take on the subject to share.
Blog Writing Tips for SEO
You’ve got a keyword or phrase to start you off. Now draft at least a dozen additional (related) keywords as supplemental keywords. This is a point where professional marketers will employ a paid service like SEMRush or Moz to help find related keywords. You probably don’t need these tools unless you’re looking to compete with the most successful content sites on the web.
So plan on drafting the keyword yourself. Be smart about it. If your main topic is ‘foldable screens in fiction’ your list will include an assortment like this:
- Screens of the future
- Science Fiction predicts reality
- Foldable phones
- Foldable tablets
And so on until you’ve got a substantial list.
With your list at your side, draft the content. Don’t focus too much on the structure yet, this is a first draft. Just get your ideas down and use the keywords you drafted whenever possible.
Side Note: There’s a practice in SEO writing called keyword stuffing. It basically means you use your keywords A LOT. More than is reasonable for someone actually discussing a topic with some degree of knowledge. Do not stuff your blog with keywords. Google will notice and devalue your content as a result.
Writing Your Blog Post
Okay, you’ve got that first draft simmering. Now you need to format it into a cohesive post that readers want to read.
I go through my draft and add Heading 2 text to break up the content. Using Headings is a must for an effective blog post. Readers skim, there’s no way around it, but you can work with those hasty readers by using Headings to guide them through your content.
You want a new Heading style (H2 or H3 usually, do not use H1 in the body of your post) every 300 words or so. That’s about three normal sized paragraphs per section.
If you have an H2 style for the title of a section that will have subtopics, I like to use H3 styles to ‘nest’ the subtopics within the larger topic. But so long as you have a consistent method for employing Heading styles, you’re in good shape.
With sections established, review the post again to clean up any errors and to look for opportunities to insert your keywords. Also look for opportunities to add links. You should aim to link to another site that offers an authoritative perspective on your topic or that breaks down any complex ideas. Your content has more authority if you reference other content that has a lot of authority.
Also link to at least one other post you’ve written or page on your site. That might be hard if you don’t have a lot of posts, but it’s okay to go back and add these links as your library of posts grows.
The Technical Details
Here comes the boring and annoying part. You should look for an SEO plug in for whatever platform you blog on. If you use WordPress, I can’t recommend Yoast enough. Some blogging platforms may have built in SEO tools as well. For some those may be sufficient, but here is a list of the items you need control over for optimizing:
- Keyword tagging
- Meta description editing
- Image Alt attributes
Any decent SEO tool will check for a number of other elements too, such as adequate Heading styles and inbound/outbound links.
Basically, you need to declare which keyword is the priority keyword. It’s the one that will appear most in your article and should be used in both the Title and Heading 2 styles in the post. Yoast calls this a ‘focus keyword’ but other tools may refer to it differently. The important thing is that your SEO tool will help you optimize based around that specific keyword (or phrase).
You know how search results have those short blurbs after the title and URL? That’s a meta description. Google will create their own by reviewing your content, but most SEO tools allow you to offer one as well. This is great as it gives you control over what searchers will see. And judicious use of your keywords in the meta description can help your content rank better for search engines.
Image Alt Attributes
Have you ever had a page fail to load properly and the images are just those little broken squares, sometimes accompanied by some text?
That text is the Image Alt Attribute or alt text. If the image cannot load, this text is displayed. The alt text also serves to help search engines understand the images you’ve used in your content. Read this terrific breakdown of Image Alt text from HubSpot to learn more.
Book Marketing and Your Content Strategy
When you put on your marketing hat and look for ways to sell your book, discoverability has to be part of your plan. That means creating content regularly that adheres to SEO standards and offers something interesting to readers.
And for everything I’ve mentioned in this post, remember that the content comes first. You have to write posts that interest readers. Period. Getting the technical SEO elements right will help you capture new readers through search. But you’ll lose them just as fast if the content isn’t great. Whatever your overall strategy, always start with the content.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.