How to Grow a Blog with SEO (like Marie Kondo’s System)

You’ve read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you’ve seen her Netflix show.

Did you think to yourself, can I declutter and tidy my blog the same way I can my home?

Yes, you can and you should. Why? Because the same principles of decluttering and removing, also apply to solid advanced SEO. Like clutter, the thought of doing Advanced WordPress SEO causes anxiety for even the most tenured bloggers.

SEO is a complicated system for even decade-long practitioners like myself, but House of Ideas is here to help distill complexity into simple easy-to-follow systems that can help any non-technical everyday person and blogger make smart and effective decisions.

Today, I’ll share SEO tips with the intention to help bloggers understand the game-changing traffic benefits of decluttering your blog. Sorry for all the spark joy references coming your way.

We’ll cover:

  • WordPress Taxonomies: How to categorize or tag blog posts for tighter internal linking and stronger SEO
  • Tidying Process: How to identify the best blog posts and pages to spark joy (for search engines and searchers)
  • Step-by-step tutorial: Take action to improve SEO traffic on those posts today
  • Untidying Process: How to identify posts that spark zero joy, get no traffic, and take up valuable blog space
  • Step-by-step tutorial: (via 301 redirects, and 410 response codes)

Like the KonMari method, Advanced WordPress SEO combines the power of minimizing and optimizing. It too is a repeatable process any artisan blogger can learn, practice, and repeat on your own blog. The best part? You don’t need to pay $$$ for a reliable SEO consultant or buy expensive courses and tools.

This system is free, safe, and repeatable in real-world practice.

While working for Fortune 500 enterprise companies, like Staples and Oriental Trading Company, I’ve had the privilege to learn and work on technical and complex SEO strategies and simple techniques for giant websites that get millions of dollars and visitors from just SEO, year after year.

I’m giving away the best lessons learned to people that could really benefit from it, and end up growing their humble blogs into robust businesses. Lessons you can feel trust that won’t come back to bite you in the future.

This guide is written specifically with you — the creative, food, lifestyle, travel, and other idea bloggers — and your WordPress baby in mind. The parents whose sites enable them to leave office jobs to blog full-time to support their family.

We believe the market for good ideas is bottomless and timeless, and that there’s plenty of room for thousands, of artisanal bloggers to team up to collaborate and compete together. We believe your work is underrated, and deserves more recognition for how it makes everyday people’s lives a little bit easier, a little more exciting, a little less stressful. One post at a time.

What better way than for your best ideas, recipes, and tutorials to show up on page 1 for the millions of people Googling them?

If something doesn’t make sense, or if you have questions, please email me at rajshahseo@gmail.com.

Let’s go. Good luck. If you found this book helpful, please pass along to a blogger friend.

Shout out to Marie Kondo (and how her method applies to time-tested, advanced SEO)

While reading your book in 2015, my wife and I wondered if your Method would survive, and still be relevant 5 years down the line, or if it was just an internet fad we all got excited about and forgot the next day. February 2, 2019, and so far, your method has not only survived, but it’s going viral. Again. 2 books, a Netflix season, and low-key scaling your in-home business by basically cloning 200 KonMari Method certified Consultants to do the thing that you do best.

The genius of your system is its design to quietly instill good, sustainable habits in any end user. The one-day marathon, the long-term categorization, the occasional maintenance, you made all of these things easy to understand, easy to try, easy to stick. You made them minimum requirements.

I also appreciate your goal of zero % retention rate. If you truly want your clients to experience permanent lifelong benefits, then besides the occasional check-in, it’s good if you never hear from them again. If they make your method a habit, they tell their friends and family. So, bloggers, when business people say “it costs 10x more to acquire a new customer than an existing one,” remember that some business models don’t rely on what business people think.

My 10-year profession of SEO works the same way. If you as an SEO employee, consultant, or an agency, take pride in helping your clients build a strong long-term foundation and habits, then it’s in their best interest for you to get it done, and to never have to call you unless something wildly unpredictable happens.

You should only work as long as you’re needed working on new challenges. If you repay for the same stuff year after year, the SEO professional is a better sales person than they are a practitioner. Where it gets confusing is that it’s easy to get stuck. The larger the business, the longer they stay stuck in projects, requiring continuation of SEO services. The inability to build a smart foundation, to build second-nature habits, and to upkeep over time keeps you needing SEO help.

I don’t say all this to attack my peers, or their professional integrity, I say this because it’s very easy to forget that SEO wields the long-term powers that no other channel comes close in comparison.

They need a system that’s comprised of a weekend hackathon, smart routine habits that work like second nature, and the occasional maintenance work. No frills, low buzzwords, high value creation.

The Joy of Professional Blogging

The Japanese concept of ikigai means “a reason for being.” It’s a framework that helps you identify your life’s calling. Ikigai is the intersection of 4 Venn diagrams, each circle representing: something you’re good at (profession), something you love (passion), something that pays the bills (vocation), and something the world actually needs (mission).

Most of us struggle with identifying our calling because we only focus on 1, 2, or 3 of the 4 components. Bloggers also struggle with the same thing when it comes to creating content. Let’s look at the 4 components that could help you identify your blogging ikigai.

Skills | Which existing and new skills are you ready to master?

Every blogger must develop a special set of offline and online skills to survive their business in the long run.

The offline skills are what you master doing the actual handiwork for your blog, such as bringing your imaginary ideas to life, purchasing supplies, taking photos, taking video, going to at networking at conferences, closing business deals, and so on.

The online skills are what you master in producing and promoting your work on the web. A long list when you take into account every skill that comes with these territories: WordPress, Facebook, Google, Youtube, Instagram, Gmail, brand partner websites, and so on.

In the past, you had a chance to choose: be really good at one thing, or be decent at many things. The modern day blogger in 2019 has to be both, a kind of polymath where you’re really good at a bunch of things. This is all on top of being a parent, spouse, and like many part-time bloggers out there, a 8-6 office job.

Income | How will you, realistically, make money?

Income determines your ability to pay yourself, and your level of advancement. It’s not about being more successful than others, but about putting yourself in a position to survive long-term.

Before it makes money, your blog’s a hobby. When it pays your bills, it’s a profession. When it makes enough for you to leave your office job, it’s a business. If you constantly position your business to make it through good years and bad years until you’re ready to sell for a nice chunk of money, or you’re ready for retirement, your blog business is an exit strategy.

Being good at something, even extraordinarily good, only goes as far as your ability to keep the WiFi on at home, non-GMO food on the table, and meeting other basic needs in 2019.

The most important thing about figuring out a way to monetize your special skills is this: it buys you time. Start out with whatever: ad money, brand money, consulting money, affiliate money, ebook money, printables money, or any other method you can get by with.

Traffic  | How do people that need you find you, and see your work?

When a blog post or social media posts takes off and goes viral, it confirms to the blogger that for whatever reason, a lot of people needed to see this. This resonated with way more people than I thought, for whatever entertainment, information, or inspiration reasons.

Social media marketers have searched 2 decades to find the secret golden magic ball for predicting and “going viral”. Spoiler alert, no one’s come close, and you should be skeptical of anyone trying to convince you otherwise with their fancy charts, cherry-picked percentages, scientific reasoning, and other expert opinions. These should not be taken as proof.

Only you, the blogger with real skin the game, know that it comes down to doing lots of good work, sharing it with the world, knowing at any point, people on the internet will say the nicest or the crappiest things. You know firsthand better than experts and gurus that you’ll get a whole lot wrong before you get a few things right. So, you produce dozens, hundreds of posts, and hope that some of them stick.

You can clearly measure the results of promoting your work by looking at total social share counts, by visitor and pageview counts, and from written comments.

What most bloggers don’t do is look at other traffic channels, assuming they ever open up their Google Analytics. It’s perfectly understandable why they don’t, and most bloggers don’t. The problem, however, is that you are looking away from a gold mine of vital information. Your Analytics reports has years of traffic and audience data waiting for someone to look at it, to decode the hidden, powerful signals from the noisy, meaningless information, and to make the blogger deeply aware of what’s happening under her own eyes, so she can re-calibrate her focus on what to do and what Not to do.

For example, every blogger is shocked to see her top SEO posts aren’t the ones that go viral with high traffic and social shares. Why? Because social media is passive searching, while using Google is active searching. What rises to the top on social media timelines is different than what rises to the top of search engine results. Besides user expectations on social vs search, the algorithms used by Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Youtube, Amazon, Etsy, your WordPress blog.

All of this to say: you have to know where to look in your Analytics to identify the real world problems of your users, the problems you’re excelling at helping solve, the underserved open opportunities that others like you aren’t taking advantage of, the ways you can build your audience, the low-effort, high-return articles which you can significantly increase traffic to, by doing just a little bit of work, and so on.

Brand YOU | What is your onlyness?

What do people say about you when you’re not in the room?

What do you want to be known for?

When a new guest visits your site, what lasting impression(s) do they leave with?

Brand YOU is you, your work, your website, your language, design and style, your income methods, your core values, your marketing methods, your (online) public persona, and your business as a whole. It’s all of you and everything of yours as a whole. Like the moon, sometimes we get a partial view, and every so often, we see the whole thing.

Brand YOU the reflects your key areas of expertise and focus, it reflects the main categories on your WordPress nav menu, it reflects your onlyness. The things that bring out the best in you, and sparks a whole lot of joy.

When she first starts a blog, the blogger has to produce a little bit of everything: different types of articles covering a wide range of categories. As she advances past major checkpoints (10 articles published, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000) and masters the publishing cycle, and discovers her blogging identity, she can afford to zone in on a small area of expertise, and align her editorial, social media, and personal life calendars in those specific areas.

With skills, income, and integrity, you have the ingredients of a blog where the creator is damn good at what she does, she’s figured out some ways to provide for her family, and she has acquired business principles and creative guidelines on what to do, and even more importantly, what NOT to do.

This system will help you put all 4 ikigai components into SEO action.

Search Console

The Google Search Console, previously known as Webmaster Tools, for your WordPress site is a treasure that ever blogger sits on top of. It contains both gold and silver, that is, there’s highly valuable information of what to do and what NOT to do for SEO improvement. It’s your #1 tool in your SEO arsenal, and the most important thing to help you identify your blogging sweet spots.

If you still don’t have it verified and connected to your sites, you need to stop everything and do it now. Bloggers usually only open up Search Console when Google sends them email notifications. They’re either not sure how to look at the reports, or what to do next, or they’re afraid of breaking something. Just about every blogger we’ve talked to has expressed guilt in not using the Console. It’s alright, don’t feel bad. This guide will show you just the 2 essential reports you need to look at, how to interpret them, and what to (not) do moving forward.

Treasure Maps: The Performance Report for Finding Golden & Silver Nuggets

Step 1. Check your total number of posts published in WordPress. Let’s say it’s a 1000.

The Golden Rule of Articles and Keywords:

You know the 80/20 Pareto Principle. Likewise, on virtually every blog we’ve ever audited, we found that Top 10% of total articles were responsible for over 80% of actual SEO traffic (clicks) and potential SEO traffic (impressions). This means that for every 10 articles you publish, 1 article will go viral, so to speak, on Google Search. If all 10 of those articles bring you 1,000 visitors from SEO in a year, the 1 article alone will be responsible for 800 or more.

So if you have 1,000 articles published, and you haven’t done much SEO work in the past, we can safely assume that the top 100 articles by Clicks and Impressions are your golden articles.

Any time you click into each article landing page URL, you can then click on the Queries tab, which will reveal all of the top keywords the articles shows up in Google search for. Again, the same rule applies: a few number of keywords will be responsible for most of the Clicks and Impressions. Pick out the best 5-10 that are highly relevant to what the searcher is looking for, and what your article has to offer. These 5-10 are your golden keywords.

The Silver Rule of Articles & Keywords:

While pinpointing your golden articles and keywords, avoid fool’s gold:

Articles that contain obsolete solutions and obsolete problems.

Articles that don’t embody your’s or your blog’s ikigai.

Keywords that don’t highly or exactly match what the Google searcher is looking for, and what’s in your article, even if they have high Impressions and Clicks today.

Resist the temptations. I’ve been there myself, learn from my mistakes. Don’t pursue every article and keyword with the highest counts. The short-term traffic upside is low. The downside (of lowered rankings for other articles on your site) is high. Long-term survival greatly depends on your long-term rankings, so by using the golden and silver rules of articles and keywords, you’re playing it smart, and playing it safe. Goes back to not keeping your SEO consultant around forever.

Once you’ve picked out your 100 articles, you can safely attacking them, and sleep easily knowing you’ll open your blog up to high upside, low downside, with the least amount of effort. We’ll discuss the plan of attack soon.

Speed

Speed, aka, page loading time is the hottest topic in SEO these days. It’s a good thing, because it raises awareness and action in something that’s going to help you compete better in the near future. It’s a bad thing because chatter creates excess noise, making it harder to filter out what you, the non-technical blogger, need to do, and how you can do it the right way without incidental damage.

I’m no developer myself, so whenever Google hints that faster web pages often rank higher their slower competition, like you, I think to myself: is there a plugin for that?

And yes, there are many, but there are factors within and beyond our understanding that influence how long a page takes to fully load. Your server machines (the back end) that host your website have to be on point, as does the front-end: the core WordPress code that assembles your pages, all of your plugins and themes you’ve mish-mashed in your WP admin, all your images, all your ads, and so on.

So no you can’t just solve the problem with a plugin. You need:

Smart back-end & front-end optimization

A solid managed WordPress host (that’s hellbent on back-end speed improvements) makes a big difference. Get you a provider that offers HTTP/2, free CDN, premium DNS, advanced caching systems, SSD storage, at least 2 PHP Workers, and other breakthrough benefits that uncover in 2019 and beyond.

I recommend Kinsta and Pressable for bloggers, because they offer all of these speed benefits, and other key benefits at fair prices, and also because they’re very transparent about their processes and back-end configurations. Here’s Kinsta with a monster guide on WordPress speed. Like real practitioners, they walk the walk.

A solid CDN is something you need if your host doesn’t provide it. Content Delivery Networks help all your images, PDFs, and other static files load faster, so this is a must-have for all the bloggers who upload 10-20 images per article.

Caching Plugins

The best caching plugin is nothing without proper setup. You’ve heard of WP Rocket, WP Fastest Cache, W3 Super Cache, and other plugins that aim to get you high page speed scores. You might even have one of these installed. I’ve tried all 3 on a bunch of sites, and have read many comparison guides on the best caching plugins, and my conclusion is trust me when I say: it doesn’t matter.

Every site is different. Every one of these plugins will get you a different page speed test score using different tools like Pingdom, WebPageTest, and Google’s own Page Speed Insights. What’s important is that you pick one, and you set it up with a precise configuration.

Unfortunately, I’m not good at that, chances are you aren’t either, so most of us need to hire someone that knows website back ends and front ends inside-out. They can help you not only maximize the value of the plugin, but also ensure none of your HTML, CSS, or JavaScript code breaks on your live web page; things that could easily disrupt your traffic, and or your earnings.

Images

Perfectly sized and compressed images. Like with speed plugins, there are far too many great image compression options. Again, it’s not the plugin, it’s how you use the plugin adapted to your own site.

For example, image re-scaling. A featured image on your article page, the thumbnail image on the category page, or in Related Posts sections, are all designed to have unique image resolutions. The trick is to look at your home page, category page, and article page templates and identify all the image resolution sizes on both the desktop and mobile versions of your blog. You can do this yourself.

Once you identify a list of dimensions (1500×1500, 1000×700, 150×50, etc.) specify them in your image compression plugin. A good one is WP Smush. The plugin will create a compressed image copy for every dimension specified, so WordPress can then load the right-sized images in the right places, and avoid having to re-scale dimensions during the page loading process.

Security

Security isn’t an SEO ranking factor until your site gets breached. Here are some common problems that happen to bloggers:

Your blog gets injected with pharmaceutical links and pages.

Comment spam

Someone you know goes rogue, breaks in, wipes your content and brings down your site altogether.

Content theft that occurs even without admin access to your site or your hosting through the use of web scraping software

Google checks your site every couple of days, and they can easily detect these site disruptions. If they see Viagra links in your code, a high number of spam comments, and other malware requests that create a poor experience for the searcher, you can bet your rankings, and traffic, and earnings will suffer.

Like speed, robust security requires good back-end and front-end measures. Get yourself a host that backs your site up daily, and get

WordPress Taxonomies: How to categorize or tag blog posts for smarter internal linking and SEO

A key principle of the Kon-Mari Method is categorization: the idea is that you tidy and untidy your home by categories, not rooms. The method is fixated by design, so that every home organizer trying it follows the same, exact routine, and forms long-term habits.

For example, clothing. You take your favorite clothes, find one dedicated place to put them in, and to keep them there forever. Repeat for new clothes.

Every time you see these clothes, access them easily, wear them regularly, care them properly, the habit becomes more ingrained, replacing the older, less joyful habits.

Categorization is also a key principle for blogging SEO, however, most bloggers don’t understand how WordPress taxonomies fully work, so they overload blog posts with any and every Category, Tag, and Custom Post Types that sounds like a good keyword. I’ve seen so much of this while working on enterprise SEO challenges, where retail sites use millions of combinations of categories and tags, and can write a 5,000 word essay on it, but you don’t have time for that, here’s the only thing bloggers need to know:

Less weighs more. Let’s look at all the possible web pages your WordPress blog produces for most bloggers.

  1. Every time you publish a new blog post, or static page, you’re creating a new page for Google.
  2. Every time you add a new Category, Tag, and any other Custom Post Type taxonomy, it’s an additional page for Google.
  3. Every time a Category page exceeds max number of posts, and page 2 of the category is created, an additional page for Google.

A typical WordPress blog for full-time bloggers ranges from 2000-5000 pages. In most cases, over 95% of total pages have absolutely zero SEO traffic potential.

This means that for the 5% that do have low, medium, and high potential for traffic, you have to do a lot more SEO to get them to rank high. More internal links, more external backlinks, more engaging copy, photos, and videos in your top posts, sophisticated keyword targeting, and so on.

The fewer pages your WordPress blog cranks out,  the more valuable each page becomes.

Fewer pages means fewer clicks for users and search engines to navigate to your best content from the home page.

Long story short, smart categorization is one of the best techniques any blogger can employ in order to optimize their best content.

WordPress Categories vs Tags

Professional lifestyle, creative, food, and travel bloggers already know: WordPress Categories and sub-categories are the primary way to categorize content.

Categories represent your blog’s main topics: for example, party ideas, printable downloads, food recipes, craft tutorials, costume ideas, travel ideas, gift ideas, etc.

Sub-categories are more narrow: Instead of looking at a 100 party ideas, they allow you to zone in on Birthday party ideas, Super Bowl party ideas, Baby Shower party ideas, etc.

Tags are like wild cards, you can use them more freely. As the creator, you get to decide what wild cards your content will be about. If you have 3 or more Minnie Mouse themed posts in each of the different categories, tag all of those posts as “Minnie Mouse Ideas”. Other wild card tags include holidays, price (free or premium), specific audiences (for teachers, for kids, for infant girls, etc.), and so on.

All of this is important because most bloggers have a strong tendency to over-tag every article. They’re unknowingly making a big mistake of creating duplicate pages. For example, they use “party ideas” as both a WordPress Category AND a tag. I don’t blame you, it feels risky to not tag all of your keywords that you think it can bring you traffic for.

There’s a better way. Learn it once, try it a dozen times, and never look back. Marie Kondo’s biggest selling point is making her method feel natural to anyone who gives it an honest shot. Here is a similar method applied to your WordPress compartments:

Blog Categorization Method
Blog Categorization Method

Between WordPress Categories and Tags, Categories should be your primary method of categorization, and Tags secondary. If you’re a creative, lifestyle, food, travel, etc. blogger, you’ll generally have more tangible content like ideas, printables, recipes, and tutorials than abstract subjects like Easter, Halloween, Birthday, etc.

Apply as few categories, sub-categories, sub-sub-categories, and Tags as possible. Excess tagging may have helped with SEO rankings in the past, but now all they do is create clutter for people and search engines.

Now, how to set your Yoast settings to minimize the downside, and maximize the upside of Category and Tag pages.

WordPress Categories

Always set to:

WordPress Tags

Almost always set to:

The exception is if you’ve always used WP Tags in place of  WP Categories to categorize your content.  Otherwise, most bloggers Tag pages will almost never rank for any meaningful term.

WordPress Media & Attachment URLs

Recently, there was a defect with this setting in the Yoast plugin, where this setting was set to “No” and this created thousands of additional pointless URLs for every image on a few of our partners’ sites, causing rankings and traffic to mildly decrease for a few weeks.

Always set this to Yes.

WordPress Author & Date Archives

If WordPress Author Archives Enabled, Then…

 

If WordPress Date Archives Enabled, Then…

WordPress Custom Post Types

WordPress Custom Post Types exist for custom built page templates that might have special use for your blog or site, such as Portfolio pages, e-commerce pages, and other landing pages.

For example, on the House of Ideas site, we built out landing pages to feature our partners and their best work. We want Google to rank these pages, so if a brand manager googles “Lindi Haws of Love the Day”, they can see her blog, her social media accounts, and her HOI partner page on page 1, and contact her to hire her to do sponsored work.

 

Essential Cheat Sheets, Checklists, and Templates

The Start Here Page for Bloggers

Most bloggers have seen, but never used, the Start Here page. When you visit some blogs, you’ll often see a link in their main menu called “Start Here” or “New? Start here.” When you click it, you realize it’s a lot like your Home page, or your About page, and still quite different.

The Start Here page takes elements of the home page and the about page, and is designed to hook new visitors in, and sell them on you, your brand, your product, your influence, and your best work. Combined, these forces all work together to create a lasting impression on the reader and to a smaller degree, search engines.

Download your free template of the perfect Start Here page for professional bloggers.

Should you make a Start Here page?:

If you already have one, make it better by adding elements from our template you otherwise don’t have today.

If you don’t have one, copy, paste into a new WordPress ‘Page’ and fill in all the blanks.

Now. The best part, and most critical for traffic:

Take your 10, 20, (30 or more, if you dare) golden articles identified by SEO and Social media guests, and list them here.

Bloggers versus artificial intelligence robots

Did you know AI programs can produce artwork nowadays? I thought they only did medial tasks. Terrifying, isn’t it? Think about what this could mean for blogging, for content creation, for photography, for automation. The possibility of media giants using AI programs to crank out creative content at scale isn’t so far-fetched now, is it?

Stay ahead of the curve. As a hands-on practitioner, SEO has given me the chance to see things happening in the world and on the internet, as if I was sitting front-row. I’ve had the privilege to see dozens of macro and hundreds of micro changes in the technological world. Seen thousands of data points in looking at enterprise reports, tools, and other data providers. Seen millions of dollars of revenue increases without even ranking increases. Seen how true and potent the power of SEO is from its most broadest application to its most granular.

AI may produce artwork and in the future, brand content, but only you, the artisanal blogger, can make creative content an art-form. Forget AI, even most people outside of East Asia know about Ikigai. If you zone in on yours, you’ll extend your blogging business life expectancy. Start with SEO. It’s not the end all be all but it’s the perfect thing to tinker with to see monstrous competitive advantages.