grow a business on the web

Write a Post that Ranks

Search engines, like Google and Bing, have a goal. They want to serve up quality content to their users. 

You also have a goal. You want your customers, clients, and fans to find and read your blog posts and, by extension, your website. Your goal is for search engines to recognize that your posts are the quality content their users want and to rank your posts organically at or near the top of search results.

Follow these five steps to write a post that ranks. The steps cover content, formatting, image accessibility, categories and tags, and on-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Done correctly they will help you write the content your customers want in a format that meets search engine requirements.

Good content and proper formatting will help your posts rise to the top in search results, maybe even the very top.

1) Write what your clients are searching for

Two women enjoying coffee and discussing business.
Mine your client’s questions for ideas to write your next blog post.

Don’t indulge in random posts about topics of mostly personal interests. Ask yourself, “What questions are my clients asking me?” Then answer those questions in your blog posts.

For every question a client asks, you can bet that hundreds of others have asked the same question on Google or Bing. Search engines are looking for the answers to users’ questions. Write those answers.

Include keywords, but don’t overdo it

What terms do your clients and customers use when they ask you a specific question? Make sure to include those key phrases or something similar in your content.

While drafting your post, conduct your own search of the keywords and phrases you plan to include. Note the results. If competitor websites are coming up, you may be using the right terms. It the results are unrelated to your content, then recalculate and test different key terms.

Research – Don’t guess

You may be experienced and confident you know the answer to your client’s question. Nevertheless, take the time to confirm. Do the research necessary to ensure that you are providing the best possible and most accurate answer to a specific question.

Keep track of your sources and, when helpful, include links so your readers can continue researching on their own if necessary.

Draft in a Word document

It may seem faster to compose your post directly into your WordPress blog. However, I recommend that you write and edit your draft in Word, Pages, or a text editor. This will allow you to make edits, improve the content, and even email the draft to a colleague for review.

When you are ready to publish you can copy and paste your content directly into your post.

2) Follow formatting rules

Image of formatting
Formatting is just as important on the internet as the printed page.

Keep in mind that the search engine algorithm will be reading your post and deciding if it is useful for a user’s search. 

Formatting rules for internet content are very different than those for the printed page, but they are no less important. For best results follow formatting rules.

Formatting rules for headings

Use a post title that represents the content of your blog. Like all headings it should be concise and clear and include your keyword or phrase.

Do not add HTML coding to the post title or other headings. You may like the look of a title in italics, but the search engines may not.

Size headings appropriately to show a clear outline to a user (or search engine) scanning the content. Heading tags run from H1 to H6, with the higher numbers having the greater emphasis. In this post, for example, the numbered headings are a higher tag number than the subcategories under them. Only two sizes of heading tags were used.

Formatting rule for paragraphs

Start your post with an opening paragraph or two. Explaining what your article is about in the opening paragraphs makes it easy for the reader to decide if the topic is useful.

Keep your paragraphs short throughout the post. The added whitespace will make your post easier to read.

Do not start your content with a heading. The post already has a title and search engines, which are scanning the entire post, may find a second title at the top of the content problematic.

Formatting rules for links

Links are the critical to the internet and provide the connections to additional resources, ideas, and even cat videos.

They should be formatted and coded in this way:

<a href=”” title=”The Basic Structure of a Blog Post by Lorelle VanFossen”>Article on how to structure a blog post.</a>

Please note that the article linked above is a very thorough description of the WordPress editor, how to add links, header tags, and much more. I added “The Basic Structure of a Blog Post” here because it is well worth reviewing. For the reader, the link should appear as it does in this paragraph.

The anchor text is the text that the reader sees linked in your content, as shown in the paragraph above. It may be the title of the linked article or words that describe it. When the reader clicks on that link they should go directly to the article.

Formatting rules for images

Before you upload your images into the WordPress media library they need to be prepared for use on the internet.

Reduce the image file size by saving for the web in .jpg or .png files of 50 to 100k. The maximum pixel size is 1200 across, but smaller is better.

Think of how the image will be used. If it is intended to illustrate a major point in your post and the content is supposed to wrap around it, then it may only need to be 400 to 600 pixels across.

When you save the image for use on the internet, change the image name to include a description with a dash between words. This will become the image title and will be helpful for search engines scanning your content so make it short but descriptive.

3) Add images and accessibility

Accessibility image on a keyboard
Accessibility is important. Take the time to ensure all your users can access your content.

After the content is in place and you have added your headings to show a clear outline of the content, it’s time to add your images. Images can be added anywhere in the content, but, generally, I prefer to add them at the beginning of a paragraph and aligned to the left so that the paragraph content wraps around the image.

After an image is added you can preview the post. If the image is too large and the content is not wrapping the way you like, go back into the post editor and select the image. WordPress makes it easy to customize the image size after selecting the pencil icon.

Not all images need a caption, and it may not be necessary to add one to your images. If you believe captions will be helpful to your customers, then add them at this time.

Improving accessibility

If you have not done it already, add an Alternative Text (alt tag) to describe the image to the visually impaired. The alt tag is used by screen readers, the browsers used by blind and visually impaired people, to tell them what is on the image. This will help your post be accessible to more users. If appropriate, include your keyword within the alt tag.

If you are embedding a video that is hosted on You Tube, you can enhance the accessibility by properly captioning the video. The National Center on Disability and Access to Education describes how to add captioning to your videos here.

Images and sharing

Include an image with each major point you are making in your content. We love to look at pictures, and posts with images or videos are far more likely to be shared. Because you want your posts to bring in new customers and increase sales, take the time to add quality images that will illustrate your content and encourage sharing, tweeting, and reposting.

4) Add the Category, Tags, and Featured Image

Mary Ann Aschenbrenner in her Waterlink Web office
The author, Mary Ann Aschenbrenner, in her Waterlink Web office. This is the featured image for this post.

Categories and tags will help your post get found. Think of categories as chapter titles and the tags as an index in a book. The category is the main subject of the post while tags are more like a reference.

Normally you create a category only when you expect to have several posts within that category.


Categories are a way to group your posts. They can help identify what your website is about and help readers find the content they are looking for. Categories are also hierarchical so you can have sub-categories as well. If the category has a parent, include it too.

In WordPress each post must have a category.


While you will probably select only one category for your post, you may want to use several tags. They are meant to describe specific details of your posts. They are your website’s index words. Tags are not hierarchical.

Tags can be one word or a short phrase, all in lower case. You can add the category name as a tag also.

WordPress does not require tags.

Featured Image

Not every WordPress theme incorporates a featured image, but if yours does, be sure to add it. When readers repost your blog to their Facebook pages, the featured image is shared along with the post content. Try to make sure it is a compelling photo that illustrates your subject matter.

You can reuse an image from the post content as a featured image as well.

5) Edit Yoast SEO

Image of Yoast SEO editor
This is a sample of the Yoast SEO keyword and snippet editor.

If you have the Yoast SEO plugin installed on your WordPress site, then you can easily add the focus keyword and edit your post snippet before publishing.

This image shows a sample of how the Yoast SEO keyword and snipped editor looks. There are other SEO plugins for WordPress that may work as well for you.

Focus Keyword

Scroll down the WordPress editing page past where your content ends. You will see the Yoast SEO section. Your first step here is to add in the focus keyword. You have already selected the keyword or phrase for this post, incorporated it in the post title, and included it, or variations of it, in the content. Add the keyword or keyword phrase here.

Snippet Editor

This is where you edit the description that appears when your post comes up in search engine results. You are only allowed about 150 characters. Begin with your keyword or keyword phrase and continue with a brief description of the post content. It has to be short, and it should be interesting enough to encourage a user to click on it.

The Yoast plugin will highlight in red when you go over the character limit. You may spend a few minutes editing in the snippet editor before you have a good description that is within the character limit. The time spent is worthwhile because it will show in search results for this piece of your website’s content.

In Conclusion

Mary Ann Aschenbrenner
The author, Mary Ann Aschenbrenner, is a WordPress website designer and developer and President of Waterlink Web. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Finally, you are ready to publish your blog post. If you have linked your website with your Facebook page, LinkedIn, and Google+ account, then the post should publish on these social media sites simultaneously.

Do your happy dance. Take a walk. Relax. You have done a good piece of work.

Tomorrow you can start promoting this content and encourage sharing it with the world.

For more information about results Waterlink Web clients see from our on-page SEO work, please review our site at Waterlink Web/Search Engine Optimization.

Bonus Material

As an additional resource you may want to review a presentation I delivered at Community Inspired Professionals in April of 2016, “How to write a post that gets ranked”. It covers some common mistakes and offers additional resources for promoting content.

–Mary Ann Aschenbrenner
President, Waterlink Web

By Mary Ann Aschenbrenner

Mary Ann is a website designer and developer working with small businesses and nonprofit organizations. She works and lives in St. Johns, a neighborhood in North Portland.

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