Imagine someone asking you to run around a baseball diamond, from first base to home plate. BUT, just before you take off, you’re told to sprint while wearing a blindfold. You’re lucky if you don’t sprain your ankle.
That gives you some sense of how difficult it is to execute a content strategy without SEO (search engine optimization) research. SEO strategy ensures that your content is discoverable through organic search. It makes sure you’re not running around in pitch dark.
Content gets a bad rap when it’s disconnected from a sound SEO strategy. To many people, it sounds like a buzzword. Think about how many times you’ve heard the phrase “you need content.” The truth is that you need content...that is discoverable. And so a well-planned content strategy could fail to generate an ROI for a business if it leaves out content strategy’s twin sibling:
A content strategy that fails to include an SEO component is at risk of generating content that doesn’t enhance the client’s organic search visibility.
In other words, SEO should inform content strategy. Without it, you’ll be running around while blindfolded.
Our digital marketing agency conducts extensive SEO research that lays the foundation of a content marketing strategy. Though most people don’t have the time to do a complete audit of backlinks, canonical URLs, 404 errors, broken internal and external links, and page loading speeds (to name only a handful of components), there are some relatively simple SEO fixes that can help guide content creation.
It’s important to bear in mind that content strategy is not only about new content creation but also optimizing and improving content that already exists. These four tips will enhance your content while also giving you direction for the future.
1) Keyword Research
One of the factors that Google uses to index content quality and relevance is based on keywords. You want to make sure whatever content you’re creating includes the relevant keywords.
For example, if you own a gluten free, vegan grocery store franchise (if it doesn’t exist already, we give you permission to run with this concept), you’ll want to write blog articles and landing pages that include the keywords:
“How to be vegan”
“Gluten free pasta”
“Gluten free flour”
These keywords get heavy search volume. If you write an article that includes these terms and visitors find that your content aligns with what they searched for (WARNING: don’t try to game Google otherwise you’ll be at risk of receiving a Penguin Penalty), you’ll get a boost in organic search rankings.
How did we come up with the above list? We didn’t pull it out of thin air. There are terrific tools that facilitate keyword research. Some of the best are SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz. Once you have a list of keywords, you’ll be able to produce content that drives organic search to your website.
Keep in mind that Google frequently updates its search algorithms, so it’s important to follow SEO blogs to learn about the latest updates. It's sometimes easiest to hire a digital marketing agency to oversee an SEO strategy if you don't have the time or resources. But for those who want to do it themselves, we recommend reading blogs that follow SEO best practices.
2) Building Topics Around Keywords
Once you have a list of keywords, you’ll need to create topics. An effective content strategy should take into account the topics that people are searching and already creating content for.
If you are looking for a tool to help generate content ideas, Buzzsumo is an awesome website. Buzzsumo shows that for the term “gluten free,” Healthy No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bars Vegan, Gluten Free is the most shared article containing this keyword.
You can also create topic buckets such as “vegan baking ingredients,” “vegan dairy alternatives,” “vegan lifestyle,” and “vegan meals.” Once you’ve created the buckets, you can start to drop keywords into each one. nstead of creating a single article with a bunch of keywords in them, you can create multiple articles that contain four to five keywords each.
So as the owner of a hypothetical grocery store, you may create five different articles on delicious, gluten free recipes.
One keyword-->Five different article ideas-->500 new visitors come to your site via organic search.
Another SEO tactic is to type a keyword into Google’s search bar and let the search engine fill in the rest. Type in “gluten free diet” and Google will suggest “plan” as the next word. Voila! Our hypothetical grocery store now has another blog article titled “gluten free diet plan for the next 30 days.” Google also suggests “gluten free diet benefits.” How about a long form article titled “Gluten Free Diet Denefits Are Incredible. Here are 10 that stand out.”
You get the gist.
3) Important Meta Data: Title Tags and Meta Descriptions on SERP
Trying to get discovered is not only about creating new pages. It’s also about optimizing your current content. Are your title tags too short, too long, or altogether missing? Title tags are the HTML element that specifies the name of a webpage. They are also what you see in the Google search engine results page. When Google indexes a page, its web crawlers start at the top and move to the bottom. Keywords higher up on the page and in BIG, BOLD LETTERS will be indexed as more important than other terms.
Presumably, a title tag is the first element you see when you are arriving at a page through organic referral. Something in the title enticed you to click on the link. Google understand this and realizes this is crucial for bringing traffic to your site. Therefore, if you’re in the gluten free business, you want some keyword containing “gluten free” in the title. You also want to front the most important keyword in the title tag since the webcrawler will assume the first keyword in the tag is what the content is about.
Also, keep your title tag within 60 characters. After 60 characters, Google cuts off what follows. Now, I’m using characters broadly since Google actually measures pixel length. Lower case “i” takes up less space than capital case “W.” A title tag of 31 “W”s will be too long because of its pixel length:
By the way, a space between words counts as a character so those should be factored in as well.
Though your main value prop may be just what a customer is searching, if the keyword falls 65 characters into your keyword, they won’t see it. Serious bummer, but easily avoidable.
Now, no one wants to spend their time counting every single character in a title tag. If you’re neurotic (like some of us), you’ll waste 10 minutes counting a title tag over and over again making sure you’re carefully crafted 58-character title tag hasn’t magically become 61 characters on the tenth time. Luckily, we’ve got the recommended tool for you.
Sometimes a title tag over 60 characters will show. But not always. The only way to be safe is to keep it under 60.
Check out SEO Mofo’s Google SERP Snippet Optimization Tool. You can type in a title tag and your meta description tag (see below) and you’ll see how both will look on a search engine result page (hence “SERP”). The moment your title tag is too long, you’ll see “...” appear showing that it has been cut off.
WARNING: make sure the content on your page aligns with the content in the title tag. If your title tag contains keywords just for the sake of keywords and the page content discusses a different subject, visitors will receive a negative search experience and will quickly leave. If the page contains 2000 words and visitors only stay on a page for an average 10 seconds, Google will penalize your rankings. Its algorithm will downgrade you on organic search rankings.
Make sure your title tag contains the right keywords AND that it matches the content on the page.
Your content may be great. Your article may have keywords in all the right places. It may even have a great CTA (call to action) at the bottom of your blog.
But, if you leave out keywords from your title tag you’re MISSING OUT AN IMPORTANT SEO opportunity to connect customers with your content.
Meta description tags are important but they are commonly forgotten. These are the 160-character snippets that appear under the title tag on the SERP. Technically, Google doesn’t index keywords that appear in the meta description.
But they are very important. Think of these brief sentences as your last chance to convince someone to come to your page when they google a keyword. If they see “here’s why once you shop gluten free you’ll never want to put an ounce of gluten in your body ever again,” the searchers may be curious enough to see what the brouhaha with gluten free is all about.
Though keywords in meta description tags don’t get indexed, don’t forget about writing the meta description tag itself. Whatever your blog is about, no matter how compelling or fascinating, it will suffer if you fail to write a meta description tag.
Each snippet shouldn't be longer than 160 characters. You can use the SEO Mofo tool listed above to also see if your meta description is too long. It takes a few minutes to write a good one. If you create meta description tags as part of your content creation process, it should come fairly easy to you. Yet if you have 500 pages without meta descriptions, expect to devote a lot of time writing them for every page.
DON’T NEGLECT YOUR META DESCRIPTION TAGS! If you ignore them, your content will pay the price down the road.
4) Be Strategic with Titles and Headlines
Since Google interprets headlines as being more important than regular text, keywords here matter...A LOT. For a blog article, the title is the H1 tag. If your page lacks an H1, your SEO will be taking a hit.
Section subheads are also good spots to place keywords since Google reads these as being more important than simple text. So if you want to rank for the keyword “vegan recipes,” your H1 might be:
“Vegan Recipes That Will Make Your Mouth Water.”
The fact that the H1 headline is a bigger font and in bold tells Google’s web crawler what this content is about. We could create four subsections in the article that will be further opportunities to optimize the page for the keyword “vegan recipes.”
Vegan Ice Cream Recipes
Vegan Cake Recipes
Vegan Cookie Recipes
Vegan Stir Fry Recipes
Not only is your H1 optimized for the keyword but your subsections are as well. Your SEO content strategy should include as much relevant info as possible pertaining to the keyword “vegan recipes.” Headers are a great tool for telling Google that the content on your page relates to the keyword you are trying to capture.
Content strategy must include SEO principles if you want to see a boost in organic search rankings. The content should be able to draw on a well-researched keyword portfolio, anchor texts, internal links, external links, and other staples of SEO best practices.
These four SEO tips will help connect search engine traffic with your content. Start following them and it will be easier for you to hit your content out of the ballpark.
Let’s have a conversation about how SEO strategy can optimize your content marketing strategy.