When writing great content for a website or blog, there is always the question of how that content will be found. After all, the goal of having your content discovered, shared, and read is often directly linked to the investment and profit goals of a business. The more popular your blog becomes with your core audience, the higher the chances of those readers becoming dedicated followers and customers.
Businesses that have adopted a flexible and engaging strategy for building their brands through content marketing almost always reap greater benefits than those who don’t. Content is king, after all, but when paired with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), content marketing becomes a different ball game. In fact, focusing too much on SEO has the potential to sabotage your content strategy.
When it comes to search engine rankings, isn’t it every content marketer’s dream to have their content rank in Google’s top 10? In order to realize this dream, there are some basic SEO principles that every content marketer must understand. These principles can easily be found on the web, as thousands of blogs have detailed SEO content templates that anyone can use, but if it were that simple, everyone would rank in the top ten!
There is no magic trick to SEO in content marketing, but there are some things you can do to help improve your odds. Let’s start with those:
Do Develop Your Content Strategy Before You Start Writing
When writing content, you should consider why you are writing it, and what your ultimate goal will be. For example, if your company sells cooking accessories, and your blog features articles about these accessories, their features, and claims about how awesome they are, all in the hopes of increasing your e-commerce sales, you might not get very many engaged readers.
However, if your blog features amazingly delicious and original recipes that people can make at home, you may be on the right track. The photos and videos that accompany your blog posts can prominently feature your company’s cooking accessories, and you can have your best selling items available for easy purchase directly on the side of your blog page.
In this case, a delicious recipe simply offers more value to your readers than a blog post about a spatula’s technical specifications, or a list of reasons why one should use a spatula instead of their bare hands.
If you have an existing site, you can also gain valuable insight into what search terms are already leading people to your website by taking advantage of tools like SEMrush. Check what keywords your site already ranks for (Organic Search > Positions), and what competitors you should be weary of (Organic Search > Competitors). If you don’t yet have a website, you can analyze those of your top competitors to see what their highest performing keywords are by typing their website URL into the main search box. Additional keyword research could also help you discover trends that could potentially lead to new products for your store.
So why exactly is keyword research important to a content strategy? Because beyond creating valuable content, you want to take advantage of every other opportunity to reach your target audience. In the above example, I mentioned that if your e-commerce site sells cooking accessories, featuring great recipes could be the way to go. Now, if you then discovered in your keyword research that a larger number of people are searching for “cookie cutters” and “oven mitts” than any other baking accessory, and you just so happen to sell these products, you’ve just found the focus of your content.
Do Focus Your Content
Now that you’ve determined that cookie cutters and oven mitts are in demand, should you go ahead and write all of your blog posts about cookies? In short, no, but you can use this information to craft some very specific, high-quality blog posts featuring cookie recipes, since you know this is what your target audience is looking for. At this point you should also consider whether you’re going to write text only, film a video, or do both.
Of course, you may simultaneously discover that people are also searching for “easy pizza recipes”. If you find many varied searches, determine which are relevant to your business and separate them into prioritized groups (the most searched items should of course be top priority) for reference when determining your content publishing schedule.
It’s important to remember to keep these blog posts simple. Focus on one recipe, for example, and don’t try to squeeze in extra, irrelevant information. The more focused your blog post is, the more useful it is to the reader, and the more useful it is to the reader, the higher it will rank.
Do Write Good Quality, Engaging Content
This is what Google tells us; but it’s not as straightforward as it sounds. Just because you breezed through the first two steps doesn’t mean that the actual writing or filming of your content will be a walk in the park. Regardless of the type of content I’m creating, I always ask myself the following key questions:
- Why would anyone read or share this content?
This is where you should determine what is special or unique about the content you are creating. Would you read it yourself? Would you e-mail it to someone you know if you didn’t write it? Would you go out of your way to share this content on your social media channels?
If your content doesn’t meet these standards, don’t post it! Ask yourself why this content isn’t living up to these expectations and make some changes, get a second opinion, or start from scratch! Be sure to pay special attention to your titles. Make them descriptive, and ensure that they provide immediate information to the reader about your content.
- Are you supporting your point of view with case studies or personal experiences?
Support for your claims is important for gaining trust from your readers, but make sure you’re clear and specific. Writing something like “case studies have shown” has far less credibility than something like “in a case study conducted at Harvard University.”
Don’t worry, I’m not saying that you need to site a case study from Harvard University to make a valid point, but if you’re referencing a case study, statistics, or research of any kind, make sure to detail the source, and link to them when possible. Not including a link is more than just lazy, it will leave the reader questioning your credibility.
You may also want to relate a piece of content to a personal experience or anecdote. If you once burned your hand while baking cookies, take the time to detail this experience to the reader, and to provide useful advice and information as a result (ie. don’t forget your oven mitts!)
- Does your content get straight to the point?
Producing simple, straightforward and easy-to-read content should always be the goal. Don’t overcomplicate, or include any irrelevant information or details for the sake of a higher word count.
Do Engage With Readers
Make sure you enable comments on your blog posts and YouTube videos. There is a slight risk of spam, but the benefits far outweigh the occasional annoyance. Blogs without comment boxes can seem mechanical and one-sided, so encourage readers to voice their opinions. A closed comment section can also result in reduced social shares and backlinks.
Do Carefully Optimize Your Content for Search Engines
Believe it or not, you already did the bulk of the SEO work. Useful and engaging content written for humans is premium content in the eyes of search engines like Google, but there are many other factors related to SEO itself. Many of them can get highly technical, but in the end, great content is exactly that and will always have the advantage.
To further optimize your amazing content, you may consider doing the following:
- Ensure that your title relates to the content or keyword in a clear manner.
In your HTML document, utilize the <title> tag. For those cookie recipes we talked about, you could try something like this:
<title>Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe with Mint - An Original Recipe from “Cookie Inc”</title>
It’s important to note that in some SEO software, titles may have various character limits to ensure readability. Additionally, when you do a search on Google, you have about 55 characters to work with before the search engine cuts off your title. So in our title, we would at the very least see
“Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe with Mint - An Original…”
If your title will get cut off in a middle of something very important, like a phrase or a keyword that you know your customer will want to see, re-write your title to better fit within the 55 character parameters. For the above example, we could shorten our title to:
“Original Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe with Mint”
In my own experience, as long as the title is useful and meaningful, and is not trying to trick the search engine, you shouldn’t have to spend too much time worrying about it.
- Write a custom meta description.
Your meta description is your opportunity to speak directly to the person who will be searching for your content. Instead of just having your article read as is, this extra bit of communication lets you fine tune your message to a potential reader. Here’s an example:
<meta name="description" content="Are you looking for the most amazing and original Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe with Mint? Get it here!"/>
The optimal length for a meta description is 156 characters, and I highly recommend following this recommendation. Custom meta descriptions allow you to provide added value to the reader, which is exactly what you want when it comes to SEO!
- In-content SEO optimization.
I will say this the only way that I can: avoid ruining your well written content with keyword stuffing. If your content is provides value, it will rank higher than content that repeats the same keywords over and over again.
In general, your keywords will be more useful if they are near the beginning of the content, but don’t let this affect the overall flow of your piece. If you place your keywords at the top just for the sake of having them there, search engines will catch on and provide your page with the appropriate value rank (and don’t expect much).
One of the best things you can do is ensure that your keyword is where it is supposed to be in the content. For example, if your keyword is “cookie recipe” and your <h1> tag reflects that in the appropriate manner, you will receive due credit from search engines.
<h1>My aunt’s finger licking good chocolate chip cookie recipe with mint</h1>
I could get far more technical here; there are countless tactics regarding where and when keywords should appear, but the best lesson here is that trickery won’t get you anywhere.
- Make your content even more useful!
How can you make your already useful content even more useful?
Consider the images that relate to your content. Posting original images of the cookies being made would provide additional value, and a video in addition to your text blog would offer even more value to the reader.
When you add value, people are more likely to share and link to your content. As more appropriate links flow to your content, your search rankings will go up.
Is there more? Absolutely; but what’s provided here should be perfected before you consider moving on to more advanced SEO techniques. Now onto what should be avoided.
Don’t Write Content Purely Based on Keyword Research
Keyword research is only one part of the content development process. Avoid trying to fill gaps in your content strategy with content that is purely keyword focused. You’ve probably read keyword specific content on the web before, and it’s likely that you didn’t stick around to finish it. The reason is simple: keyword specific content is usually hard to understand, and almost always lacks direction and cohesiveness. Such content will not score well with search engines.
Don’t stuff keywords into the content body
Never stuff keywords for the sake of the keyword counts dictated by SEO software. If there is no meaning or context surrounding the keyword, it won’t do you any good. Quality content can be easily ruined with this practice, and it should be avoided at all costs.
Don’t Overuse Keywords in Titles or Meta Descriptions
Title tags and meta descriptions are not made for keyword injection. If your title is filled with keywords, it will be of no use to the reader, and therefore of no use to the search engines. The same concept applies to meta descriptions; if your description keeps repeating keywords, you lose credibility both from the humans reading your content, and from the robots indexing it.
Don’t Pay for Links
Common sense dictates that one should never pay for links, but that doesn’t stop people from making this mistake. High link counts to pages with low quality content will quickly raise red flags with all major search engines.
For example, if you pay for 10,000 links, and they are all activated in one day, this will cause your backlink count to spike. In this case, even if you do have great content on your site, you run the risk of ruining your credibility with search engines.
Paid links offer no value to your content, and if anyone promises you that massive backlink injections will boost your search rankings, hide your wallet.
Don’t Get Caught Up in the Backlinks Game
Speaking of links, backlinks from quality sources are important, so focus on gaining these instead of spending time pursuing links in ways that are not “natural”. For example, searching various forums for opportunities to inject links into other blogs is not a good way to earn quality backlinks. Instead, focus on creating a great piece of content and do something with it! Share it on your Facebook page, engage users who comment on the content, and find other avenues! Reach out to other blogs that focus on your chosen topic and ask them to provide you with feedback. Perhaps they’ll link to your content because it will provide value to their own readers.
One high quality backlink from a popular website or a news agency is easily worth thousands of poor quality backlinks!
Don’t Write Similar Content to Boost Your SEO
Avoid writing multiple pages that target the exact same keywords unless they are part of a specific content group. For example, feel free to write as many “cookie recipes” as you want, but don’t re-write the same recipe twice. These two pages on your site will be considered too similar, especially if the title tag and meta content are nearly identical.
If you must have very similar content on more than one page for any reason, you should be sure to declare the preferred version by setting the Canonical URL. Because this setting isn’t always followed, you should also set a “no index” in your SEO settings for that specific page, just to be sure. There are various plug-ins available in WordPress that will allow you to control this on a page level.
If you’re concerned that two existing pages are too similar, my advice is to merge the second with the first to create one original, high quality piece. This will provide much more value than two lower-quality pieces of content sitting on your website waiting for magical SEO rankings.
Is There Anything Else?
There are definitely other SEO tricks that you should avoid, but unless you fancy yourself a black hat tactician, you probably aren’t attempting them. If you stay away from auto-generated content and hidden text, you should be just fine!
The “Dos” and “Donts” of SEO in Content Marketing can seem complex, but applying the tips and tricks discussed will have you well on your way to rankings. To summarize:
- Ensure a clear content strategy before you begin to write
- Focus your content and create a prioritized schedule for varied content pieces
- Write good quality content that engages your target audience
- Be prepared to discuss your content with readers
- Carefully optimize your content for search and always avoid reducing the quality of your work.
Have any of these practices worked for you? Have any of them backfired? Please share your experiences in the comments!