Mother Earth News Blogging Guide to Search Engine Optimization

By Staff
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Part 1: Intro to SEO

What is SEO?

“Search Engine Optimization” (SEO) refers to techniques that help you achieve better rankings for your blog posts in Web search results. It is all about making your writing more visible to people who are using search engines, such as Google, to look for the topics you write on.

How do search engines work?

Every search engine has a program known as a “bot” or “crawler” that read a webpage to know what it’s about.  There are two key things which help search engines to classify websites:

1. The website’s content: Search engine bots scan metadata such as particular tags and keywords, so that they can determine the relevance of individual pages to particular subjects.

2. Links to the website: The more other websites link to, the better. The boost from inbound links is also known as “link juice.”

What you have to do for a good ranking:

Authority. Search engines determine the authority and credibility of your blog post based on the depth of instruction or explanation you give to your topic and the credibility of the citations you are linking to in order to support your factual claims.

Relevance. Relevance is one of the most important ranking factors. Search engines not only detect that you are using certain keywords, they also look for clues as to how relevant your content is to a particular search. (Keywords are phrases people using the Internet would search for verbatim in order to find what they are looking for. For example, “How To Make Homemade Yogurt” would be considered a keyword. See Part 2 below.)

In addition to the actual text on your pages, search engines also examine their structure, the formatting of the page, and which keywords appear in the title and in the body of the text.

Content is king – what makes good writing?

  • Give your users genuine added value. Try to provide content that no other website has provided yet on the same subject.
  • Remember that your content should be “holistic.” This means that it covers the topic in full, and includes different formats such as graphics, photos, or videos, when available.
  • When you are creating text, keep in mind that Web readers want to get information quickly. So, express yourself in as much detail as necessary, but as succinctly as possible.

Part 2: Identify Keywords

Keywords are all about asking yourself, What phrase will readers put in a search engine in order to find this blog post?

Step 1: Create a list of keyword phrases to guide your process. Consider phrases that answer a question “how, what, when, etc.”.  For example, “what to do with too much squash” or “can solar save me money?”

Step 2: Determine your Target Keyword Phrase. It should match the overarching theme of your piece and it should be specific. Got an article that’s a tutorial for growing horseradish? “Horseradish” isn’t a specific enough phrase. Instead, try “how to grow horseradish” or “growing horseradish.”

Step 3: Do your research

  • +Use the search engine itself to do keyword research. Google can provide answers to certain key questions:
    • Plug in the Keyword Phrase you are thinking to use. How much competition is there? Look at how many search results there are. If there are hundreds of thousands of results, come up with a new phrase to nab that search engine traffic.
    • “Google Suggest” Just start typing in a keyword and see what Google immediately suggests or which other search queries are recommended. This is a very quick way to get ideas for keywords. Tip: Even more specific supplements for search queries are often given on smartphones. You should therefore also use your smartphone for research.
    • Scroll down to the bottom of the page to view related searches.
  • +Google Trends If you only want to look for search trends, you can use Google’s free “Google Trends” tool. You can run searches there to look for global or regional search trends with terms of interest.

Part 3: Headlines, Teasers, and Photos

Blog post title or headline. Headlines are shown as a blue link that appears in search engines. Titles have up to 70 characters on search results, so you should choose your words wisely.

Tips for choosing a good headline:

  • Try to incorporate your Target Keyword Phrase at the beginning of the headline. Add modifiers like “best”, “guide” to help rank (but only if those actually apply to the piece).

Teasers (aka blog post description). Your teaser is the three or four sentences describing a webpage that Web reader see when they use a search engine (see image below). Along with the headline, the teaser is very important for signaling to a reader what the webpage will be about.

  • The teaser should include the Target Keyword Phrase you chose.
  • Do not exceed the maximum length of 175 characters, or the description will be cut off.
  • The title and teaser are usually the first thing people will see: Make it enticing and descriptive.


Body text

  • Remember that list of keywords you made that are about your blog post? Weave all those keywords throughout the text, but pay special attention to the first 200 words. Place special emphasis on the Target Keyword Phrase.
  • Bonus points if you can get your TKP and SKPs into subheadings (always sized to H2).
  • Search engines have an increasing preference for “meaty” content. For best results, body text should be 500 words or longer.

Images. Images (including the file name) are searchable in Google, so try to incorporate your keywords into the file’s name itself. You’ll optimize four parts of each image:

  1. The file name: Use a relevant keyword phrase, keep all letters lowercase, and use hyphens in between words. Example: growing-horseradish.jpg
  2. Be descriptive and name the photo with exactly what appears in a few words (no sentences). Using the photo below as an example: Instead of “pancakes” use “stack of blueberry pancakes with powdered sugar”

  1. The caption: One or two sentences describing the image or how it relates to the writing itself. If you can fit a keyword phrase or two into this section, great!

Internal Links. Internal links are links that go from one page on to a different page on our same site. They are good for spreading link juice (ranking power) and encouraging more page views. For each article try to include a few relevant links to another article on our site if it makes sense and genuinely supports your writeup. For example: The article “Growing Horseradish” references “Crops at a Glance” and “Vegetable Garden Planner”.  Another option would be to reference any horseradish recipes at the end of the article.

Quality citations for all factual claims. Cite all claims by linking the fact to a credible webpage. Rather than linking words or phrases that are seemingly meaningless, try to link meaningful words.

A shining example of great on-page SEO

Let’s take a look at an article that has been optimized well and point out some key areas that make it great. Check out the article All About Growing Horseradish from Mother Earth News.


Here’s a rundown of what makes this article so great from an SEO perspective based on the numbered screenshot above.

  1. A great Target Keyword Phrase – “growing horseradish” – has been selected and incorporated into the article headline. This phrase is specific and accurate enough (the article covers several elements related to the topic of growing horseradish).
  2. The title, which displays within the browser tab at the top of the shot, echoes the chosen headline. Search engines will almost always display this title or a slight variation of it in results.
  3. The URL is formatted just right. (Mother Earth News staff will take care of this.)
  4. The teaser is descriptive and incorporates the Target Keyword Phrase.
  5. The Target Keyword Phrase for this article has been incorporated early on in the body in a natural way. It’s also been incorporated a handful of times throughout the body.
  6. Secondary phrases – such as “types of horseradish” – are incorporated into the body naturally, sometimes in subheadings.
  7. This caption speaks to the topic of the article and the subject of the image.
  8. Internal link was incorporated by referencing the Crop at a Glance collection page.

Here are the best keyword phrases for this article:

  • growing horseradish (Target Keyword Phrase – 1,300 avg. monthly searches)
  • how to plant horseradish (Secondary Keyword Phrase – 260 ams)
  • types of horseradish (SKP – 30 ams)
  • propagating horseradish (SKP – 20 ams)

We hope you find these principles supportive of your work as a Mother Earth News blogger. Don’t be overwhelmed or discouraged! SEO is something you quickly get better at after optimizing a handful of your blog posts. You will find this becomes intuitive and second nature in short order. This is all in the name of getting your product to market, so to speak, and so will be well worth your effort.

Contact your Blogging Coordinator, Kale Roberts, at with any questions on the above. Thank you for your contributions and sharing your expert wiser living know-how!