According to Google Trends, for almost a decade the term ‘content marketing’ has continually increased in popularity. This correlates strongly with the continued growth of social media over the past few years, but this trend is also present for terms such as ‘SEO content’. It is apparent then that there is increased interest in the topic and most probably, more content being produced.
NOT ALL CONTENT IS CREATED EQUAL!
We’ve put together a guide to creating content as part of your SEO strategy and how to make the most of your investment into SEO content.
Before we go any further though, if you are to take one piece of advice from this guide, take this:
Always, always, always write for the user first. If you were searching, what would you expect to see? What language would be used? What format would the result be in? Do this first, and then move on to optimising your post for the SERPs. Do it the other way round and it becomes far more difficult to create content that engages real users. Worst case scenario is that you fall into archaic SEO bad practices such as keyword stuffing or thin content, and nobody wants that.
If you don’t want to read all of the explanations, we’ve included a list of the contents below:
1) Why is content important for SEO?
– Develops authority through providing value
– Attracts search traffic
– Aids conversions
2) There are lots of different types of content
3) Start with Research
– Decide on the type of content
– Ideas, Trends and Search Volumes
– Search Intent
– Competitor Research
– Be realistic
– What features are in the SERPs?
4) Creating the content
– Displaying your content
– Authoritative References
– User Flow
5) Optimising the content
7) Analyse, adapt, reform
Why is content important for SEO?
It’s probably best to start off with the fundamentals.
Why are we creating content as part of an SEO strategy?
Without knowing why we are assigning resources to creating content, we’ll just end up creating content for the sake of it. These objectives should permeate your entire SEO content strategy, and delivery higher returns for your campaign overall.
In Google’s own words: “Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it.”
Developing authority through value
In order for Google to rank a webpage for any given search term, it needs to consider that webpage to be the very best result for the query.
There are famously 200+ factors that are taken into account by Google’s algorithm but a core part of this is the value that a webpage (and website) offer the user. If your content delivers this value, it provides signals to Google, therefore boosting its ability to rank for target search terms. For instance, creating regular content demonstrates to Google that you are a contemporary source of information. Another example of this is link earning which provides further signals that your site is valuable to users.
By contrast, if your website has very sparse content, you limit your ability to provide Google with these signals and therefore hinder your ability to rank overall.
Attract search traffic
A key part of any SEO strategy is to increase the amount of targeted traffic that you generate from organic search. Whether you’re looking to garner that all important transactional intent traffic, or looking to target searchers higher up in your inbound sales funnel, it stands to reason that traffic will be a major goal for your content creation.
Traffic is all well and good, but when organisations spend money on marketing, they’re usually expecting a return of sorts. These returns are more commonly known as conversions and can come in a variety of formats including sales, email sign ups, platform sign ups and downloads. Keeping an eye on how your content will contribute to converting searchers will keep you on the straight and narrow.
There are lots of different types of content
When an SEO mentions content, most people think blog content and they’re not entirely wrong in their assumptions. Blog style content is an important part of an SEO strategy but it isn’t the only type of content that an SEO will create, optimise or edit.
Any content, whether that be text, image or video that is present on a website will fall into an SEO’s domain. These can come in the form of service pages, product pages, guides, blog articles, general information pages or even the contact page.
Depending on the complexity of the query and the corresponding solution, you should be able to apply a lot of the following advice to any piece of content that falls within your SEO strategy.
Start with Research
In a world where data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable resource, it’s almost inexcusable not to make data driven decisions. Sure there are some data sets that are harder to come by than others, but use what you can so that you make the most out of your content creation time.
Step 1: Decide on what type of content you need to produce.
Use your analytics tools to gain a better understanding of what type of content you need to prioritise. Google Analytics and platforms such as SEMrush, ahrefs and MOZ may be your starting points but also talk to your sales team and current clients to see if there are items that they would like to see.
The Performance Report on Search Console can show you the types of queries that people are using prior to seeing your website either in the SERPs or clicking through to your site. Use this data to identify holes in your current SEO strategy.
Here are some questions to help you out:
- Where is traffic missing in your inbound sales funnel?
- Are your services pages ranking for their target keywords? If not you may need to adjust the content on these pages.
- Do you need to increase the amount of long tail search traffic to your site through guides, whitepapers or blog articles?
- Are you looking to increase the amount of links that your site earns through content?
Step 2: Ideas, Trends and Search Volume
Once you’ve decided on your topic, you’ll want to hop on to Keyword Planner or SEMrush to decide on your target keywords. You can also use Google Trends to get a better view on what search terms are growing in popularity, as well as any seasonality that might come into play.
Step 3: Search Intent
Next you’ll need to dive into the searcher’s intent. We can’t express how important it is to nail this down early on. Google’s Rankbrain update provides the algorithm with the ability to better understand the intent behind a query rather than just looking at the keyword string itself. Subsequently, Google is able to understand how the content of a web page relates to this intent.
As SEOs it is our job to ensure that the content we produce is aligned to the searcher intent. How can we provide uniquely valuable content that is going to be the best solution for a searcher’s query? Again, in Google’s words:
“Know what your readers want (and give it to them)”
We advise that you start with your own research, data and thoughts on the subject prior to moving on to competitor research. In this way you can avoid being ‘anchored’ to what your competitors have said and therefore provide a more unique approach. You can also use Google’s auto suggest and ‘People also ask’ section to understand the types of related queries and intent:
Step 4: Competitor Research
Competitor research can often be mistaken for only looking at what content is being produced by companies that you come across in the marketplace. These might be companies that you pitch against or are in close proximity to you. This information is still valuable and can benefit you greatly, but we also need to look at the competition relating to this particular piece of content.
Why? Because Google is somewhat showing their hand. If you can understand what Google perceives to be the best answer to a query, you can then adjust your content accordingly.
Pro tip: Google the search query (or queries) that you are looking to rank for. Take the top 3-5 results and assess what the core content or information on these pages. It’s likely that there are common denominators that should be included in your own content.
These common denominators are not limited to the information that you may want to include. You should also take note of additional elements like imagery, video and references. You may also notice that the top links follow a certain format. For example, a list format might work well for your target query in comparison to longer prose.
The length of the content can also be an indicator of the amount of information you are going to need to provide in order to rank. This doesn’t necessarily mean that more is better! Some queries will only need concise answers.
This might seem like a strange one, but it is surprising how often you come across this issue. When you get to creating your content, you want to make sure that you are using the terminology that Google associates with your target keywords.
We have the privilege of getting insight into numerous businesses. Quite often a business will utilise terminology or messaging that is slightly different to the normal industry terms. This might be in an attempt to stand out or offer new products.
The issue here is that there will be core terminology used by the industry and your competitors which search engines will, through latent semantic indexing, have associated with your target keywords. It’s therefore very important to look at your competitors and identify what core terminology you will have to include. It is true that LSI also provides you with the ability to use synonyms and widen your scope of targeting. We do encourage this, but not before you have nailed down the targeting of your high priority keywords/search terms.
Step 5: Reality check
Let’s pause here for a second. I don’t want to be negative here, but this post is all about making the most out of your investment into content.
Take a look at the type of websites that are ranking, the associated search volume and your own ability to rank for that query. If there are lots of very high domain authority sites on page 1, and each of the webpages has a strong backlink portfolio, it might be worth looking elsewhere. Especially if you are a new website and therefore haven’t yet built the requisite authority. You can use Majestic and Moz to see this type of data:
Don’t let me stop you though. We’ve seen a lot of success with well planned content which on the face of it, shouldn’t be able to rank. But it does. DA, Trustflow and other metrics are popular indicators in the SEO industry, but remember that they are exactly that. They’re indicators. They’re not the oracle.
You can see below that we rank above the likes of Shopify, Moz and even Google’s own explanation. For a couple of years we were right at the top and often the featured snippet. We’ll have to revisit that at some point and re-optimise for a featured snippet!
Step 6: What features are in the SERPs?
The SERPs are no longer made up purely of ads and 10 standard links. Search has evolved and is continually evolving. We view this as an opportunity to be highly targeted with your content.
Much like your competitor research, you should be assessing the various results that appear within the SERPs for your target search term(s). A few items to take into account are:
- Normal text links
- Featured Snippets
- Image carousel
- Voice search
- Knowledge graph
Gaining a clear understanding of the results that are served to users by Google will allow you to tailor the type of content that you are creating and publishing. As an example, when searching ‘SEO content 2019’ Backlinko rank 2nd in the standard results but also have the featured snippet. As such, whilst Search Engine Land have the more traditional 1st position, Backlinko actually have twice the real estate and probably a higher CTR:
Creating your Content
Great, so we’ve now got a comprehensive plan for our content. We now need to go about creating. There are two major rules that you are going to want to follow when creating your content:
Write for the user first, rather than the search engine
Quality beats quantity
There a lots of variables that will affect your content creation. For example, you may need to conform to a certain brand tone or are restricted in what you can say by regulatory bodies (such as the FCA in the UK for finance). Regardless, here are a number of items that you will want to take into account:
What is the best way to display this content?
Remember, a primary concern here is to engage the user. We want to limit pogo-sticking, increase dwell time, provide value and ultimately help to convert traffic into customers.
The term ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ doesn’t ring true here.
People judge you on how your content is presented. Is your imagery aiding the user experience, or simply distracting? Do you need to invest time creating a flowchart or infographic in order to provide a visual synopsis of the content?
Consider how users will access your content. Is it the type of query that will be done on the move and therefore accessed via mobile devices? Or perhaps it is more useful to those doing in depth research on desktops/laptops? The accessibility of your content is critical in providing the best user experience.
Structure your article
Unless you’re into James Joyce or Tolstoy’s War and Peace, you probably prefer to consume content in nice, clear, bite sized chunks. Guess what? So does your traffic. I don’t think we really need to labour this point. Let’s move on.
Once upon a time it was somewhat fashionable to ‘no follow’ all of your outbound links in order to hoard your PageRank. Don’t be persuaded by these goblin hoarders. Of course, there are scenarios in which applying a no follow attribute to a link is appropriate. For example, you might be referencing a particularly heinous use of spam. If you are referencing trusted sources of information though, don’t be afraid to pass some of your authority on as a little thank you.
Users may want to see where a particular fact or statement originated. Heighten this user experience by providing links (with appropriate anchor text) within your content. It’s also going to help with the authority of your content which, as we know, is a good thing!
We’re creating content for the user here. So is there a logical next step in the user flow? Are we enticing the user to continue browsing your site? Have you included clear call to actions within your content?
We previously mentioned that conversion goals should be baked into your content creation strategy, so now is the time to double check. Whether you’re creating content for a product page or a long form article, work with your team to include useful links, CTAs and a menu structure that supports your intended user flow.
Optimising Your Content
By this point you should have a cracking piece of content that engages the user and entices them towards a conversion point. The core piece of optimisation is already there, i.e satisfying the searcher intent. You’re in a really good place to secure an all important place on the first page of the SERPs. We now need to put the finishing touches in terms of ensuring that the web page is optimised for search engines.
We’ve listed a number of items below, provided explanation where necessary and provided links to further resources on our site where appropriate.
The results in the SERPs reflect on Google’s ability to serve users as a search engine. A bit like giving someone a bit of advice. Bad advice can result in that person losing trust in you….good advice and you’re suddenly a genius.
Items that are sitewide considerations include:
- SSL: Google has openly stated that security is a ranking factor.
- YMYL pages: A hard to read acronym for ‘Your Money or Your Life’ pages, this applies to sites and webpages that can have an impact on a user’s bank account or health. Note that Google will hold these pages to a higher standard of trustworthiness!
- Backlink profile (we’ve covered this below in amplification)
- Mobile friendly: this was important even before Google rolled out the mobile-first index. If users cannot access your content on mobile devices, this is going to have an impact on your ability to rank in mobile search. With over 50% of internet traffic occurring on mobile devices, if your site isn’t mobile friendly we suggest you drop everything else and get this sorted ASAP.
As mentioned previously, back up any stats with references from good sources or your own research.
We live in a world of near instant communication. People expect technology to just work and prospects are not prepared to hang around.
According to Wordstream, 60% of people will leave a site if it hasn’t loaded within 3 seconds. Users judge you on your load speed, and so does Google.
Optimise your URL
We’re not talking about psuedo exact match domains here. What we’re talking about is relevant application of keywords within the URL. Let’s take this blog post as an example, we could have a few different versions of the URL:
Too long, hard to read and full of auto filled characters
Reasonably concise and clean, but uses unnecessary words
These are much shorter, easy to remember, easy to copy and paste whilst also including keywords
It’s still staggering how influential the humble title tag can be. Read how to optimise your title tag and meta description or watch Cyrus Shepherd’s whiteboard Friday for more info.
Use schema mark up to provide robots with clear information on your content, whether that be to target featured snippets, show your star rating in the SERPs or the favourite amongst those talking about schema…..help your recipe rank!
React quickly & maintain freshness
Google’s advice on the subject is that “New content will not only keep your existing visitor base coming back, but also bring in new visitors”.
You want to demonstrate to both users and search engines that your website is full of contemporary information. As such, creating regular fresh content provides these signals.
It goes further than that though. If you react quickly to industry news you give yourself the best chance of ranking for search terms that have limited competition at that point in time. Layer on to that the fact that the search volume associated with your target terms may be on the rise and your link earning potential increases dramatically.
Be conscious of having a content strategy that relies solely on what can be deemed as content with a high time decay. Looks to blend this with more evergreen content that will perform steadily for you over an extended period of time.
Don’t publish your content just yet.
You’re ready to go from a creation and optimisation standpoint, but right at the start of this article we mentioned that it is about making the most of your resources.
To really make sure that your content performs in the SERPs you’ll need to have a strategy to amplify your content. Great SEO content doesn’t just rank in the SERPs. It should also act as a piece of content marketing in its own right.
Obviously, your ability to amplify your content does depend quite dramatically on your current marketing channels. These could include social media, email campaigns as well as employing the help of any outreach/BD specialists you have on your team. Moz have covered the subject quite thoroughly in two different whiteboard fridays:
Pro tip: Capitalise on user flow and internal linking
When looking to amplify content, SEOs and digital marketers naturally sway towards proactive social media promotion. These platforms are great for getting more eyeballs on your content, but what about the audiences that you are already attracting? Identify opportunities on your site where CTAs or links can be included to your new piece of content. Encourage traffic that’s already on your site to visit other areas and use this traffic to help amplify your content.
Analyse, Edit, Reform
Hopefully with the help of this guide you can bask in the glory of your content ranking number 1, attracting and converting exactly like you intended. You don’t get everything right in marketing first time round though. The great thing is that SEO is a channel where we can gather a lot of data points on each action, allowing us to edit, reform and grow.
You can continually assess your published content. At Yellowball we prefer to set intermittent periods where we take a break from content creation to review previous content. Obviously if there is a really high priority or high time decay piece we will move this into the ‘continually assess’ column.
Here are a few things to look at when assessing your content:
- Rankings: is the content performing in the SERPs as expected? If you were targeting a featured snippet, are you in the coveted position 0?
- User and usage data: are users staying on the page long enough to read all of the content? Are they clicking through to other pieces of content?
- Backlinks: has proactive link outreach worked? Did your amplification efforts result in earned links?
You can then edit your content according to the data, helping it perform better. You may even find that your change tact slightly in the instance that it ranks for some unexpected search terms. Be agile in your review process but more importantly, make sure that you schedule in these reviews. You’ve already put in a lot of effort to create this content so why not add 10% more if it’s going to provide returns?
If you’re new to SEO and have made it all the way through our SEO content guide, it might seem like there are a lot of things to take into consideration. And there are! Don’t be put off though. Stick to the process and add any nuances that you learn along the way (tell me about them as well!). Soon your content creation process will be second nature and you’ll wonder how you could have created successful content without it.