Search engine optimization (SEO) has the potential to bring large amounts of free traffic to a website — from specific target audiences no less.

Although many of the basic principles of SEO remain the same across different kinds of website pages, there are still differences in SEO best practices across page types.

Most notably, blog posts and articles need to be optimized differently from home pages and the like.

Website Pages Vs. Blog Posts

Of course, a “website” is an abstract idea; what we think of as websites are actually organized collections of individual pages. Although the overall domain authority of a site can affect rankings, Google and other search engines still rank individual pages rather than entire websites.

For the purposes of this discussion, “website pages” refers to the pages you’ll most commonly see on any business website: home, about, careers, and capabilities pages are common examples. Product pages also fit in this category.

In contrast, a “blog post” is a single page that contains text content in the style of an article. Blog posts can of course contain videos and images, and these things can influence rankings, but text remains the main driver of SEO.

Google and other engines don’t literally assess website pages and blog posts very differently. Rather, the differences in how people use these pages, and how they tend to be created, contribute to differences in search ranking.

Key differences between website pages and blog posts include:

  • People come to website pages for information about a company. People come to blog posts for information about a topic.
  • Website pages are more likely to stay constant, whereas blog posts are published on an ongoing basis
  • Website pages are more likely than blog posts to acquire links, as they are the natural place for linkers to send traffic

These differences contribute to a simple trend in what ranks and what doesn’t:

  • Website pages are more likely to rank for head terms than long-tail keywords
  • Blog posts are more likely to rank for long-tail keywords than head terms

Why?

SEO Differences for Blog Posts and Website Pages

Website pages are light on content, but acquire lots of links. The home page in particular often has the highest page authority of the entire site.

For that reason, they are able to rank for individual phrases — such as “life science marketing” or “life science marketing agency” — that are fairly competitive. Using the keyword on-page, including it in the URL, and making it the page’s title are all standard practice.

However, these pages are usually light on text (for good reason). That makes it difficult to rank for semantically related terms, as the content on-page doesn’t have much depth or breadth of topic.

In contrast, blog posts will rarely rank for competitive head terms. Blog posts tend to acquire fewer links than home pages, and do not enjoy the nearly automatic traffic that occurs from branded searches.

A long, in-depth blog post on a narrow topic may be able to rank for that topic’s head term. In the example below, a nearly 3,000-word blog post filled with semantically related terms and linked to by several of the experts it mentions is able to rank first for the term “website footers.”

Most blog posts, however, are not that complex (and don’t need to be). Even this content is only able to rank because “website footer” is a relatively easy term to rank for.

It’s far more common to see blog posts that are optimized for head terms, perhaps titled something to the effect of “Website Footer Best Practices: Everything You Need to Know” or “How to Develop a Content Strategy,” but provide only 500 words of insight on the topic. That kind of content just won’t rank. It isn’t valuable enough.

It’s impractical to suggest that all content be massively researched and definitively authoritative. In many fields, the life sciences and healthcare being prime examples, there simply aren’t 100 percent definitive answers.

That kind of content may not resonate with all audiences, or may be flat out unnecessary for some topics. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to SEO and content marketing.

But if you aren’t always targeting high-value, highly competitive head terms, you can still rank for long-tail searches. Long-tail keywords tend to have lower search volume and be less competitive.

They also help you rank for related terms, and terms that don’t necessarily rank on their own.

Not every search is for a term that a lot of people search for. Many searches are highly specific phrases that won’t show a search volume in the traditional search tools.

An example would be “how to create a content strategy for a life science product launch.” This might get searched, but it is probably too specific to get searched more than 10 times a month (the cutoff in most analytics tools).

But Google still needs to show those searchers results. So it pulls high ranking pages for the most important terms — probably “content strategy” and “product launch” in our example — and will give some preference to pages that also include “life sciences.”

It would be foolish to try to rank specifically for “how to create a content strategy for a life science product launch.” But ranking for other long-tail keywords and including generally related terms will help you appear for that and other unique searches.

Blog posts will not usually be able to rank for head terms. But they can frequently rank for long-tail keywords.

How to Do Keyword Research for Blog Posts

The differences between website pages and blog posts suggest different approaches to keyword research for each.

Keyword research for website pages can be more general. They should be capturing traffic for branded search and key general head terms.

Keyword research for blog posts needs to be more specific, in order to find the less competitive, longer searches on specific topics. Including semantically related terms is also more important.

Finding Long-tail Keywords

Finding long-tail keywords is difficult, almost by definition. Terms that are searched a lot but not very competitive are the holy grail of SEO because most highly searched terms have been gobbled up.

A tool like Moz Explorer is extremely helpful in finding long-tail keywords. If you type in a head term or question, it will scrape search engines to find related terms, many of which are long-tail.

SEMRush is also helpful, but through a different mechanism. SEMRush allows you to input a URL and discover what terms it currently ranks for. By inputting existing, high-quality articles and digging into the results, you may be able to find more specific keywords.

Google AdWords has long been the standard of keyword research, but is now on the decline. Google is delivering less and less information through AdWords, making it more difficult to discover new keywords through the tool.

Still, inputting phrases discovered through semantic search (more on that in a second) can help you discover if any have related search volume.

How to Optimize for Related Terms (That Do Not Have Search Volume)

Google and other search engines have moved away from ranking for specific keywords and closer to ranking for entire topics.

If you want to rank for topics, you need to include terms that are semantically related (have similar meaning or are about similar topics) to signal depth and breadth within your content.

There are myriad tools that can be used for semantic search.

The above methods (Moz, SEMRush, AdWords) are all still viable for this purpose. Moz in particular shows semantically related terms even if they do not have search volume.

Answer The Public allows you to enter a head term and see the various questions that people have related to that phrase. These questions often do not have search volume, but they include natural language that reflects people’s needs.

Keywordtool.io allows you to enter a phrase and see related phrases in search.

Beyond tools like this, look at actual content to discover how people talk about your specific topic.

The Wikipedia page for your topic is probably a gold mine. Every blue link is a related phrase, and the table of contents will give you a high level picture of terms you can build on in your research.

The table of contents of books on your topic is a similarly good way to find related terms that you can use or plug into tools for more ideas.

Begin With Your Blog Topic

It is usually possible to find head terms without specific topics in mind. It is sometimes possible to find long-tail keywords.

Choose a specific topic for your blog post before you conduct extensive keyword research.

It is possible that, in the course of keyword research, you discover an incredible, highly-searched, low-competition long-tail keyword. But it’s unlikely.

You are far more likely to find these words if you begin with a specific topic and have something specific to say.

Having a topic in mind, with perhaps a rough outline, allows you to narrow your focus. You can use the above tools more effectively and find more specific terms that others are missing out on. You can then expand your scope to encompass related topics.

It’s helpful to have keywords in mind before writing, but better to have at least a topic in mind before finding keywords. Otherwise you’ll find a lot of keywords like “phenotypic screening” or “what is phenotypic screening,” terms that are difficult to rank for and target general audiences.

Moreover, the point of your blog post is never the keyword. It is to provide value to your audience.

In order to provide the most value, identify what your audience cares about first and tackle the SEO second.

We know SEO can get a bit technical. Here’s an infographic you can use as a quick reference on the differences between SEO for blogs and web pages.