It was only a few decades ago, when reaching the height of ‘visibility’ in marketing equated to your campaign content gracing a billboard in a location like Times Square. 

Now, the equivalent is that your content appears first in a Google search results page. In fact, nowadays, search engine optimization (SEO) and content have become inextricably tied together. 

Here at Content Science, we’ve thoroughly explored the relationship between content and SEO, and have some helpful takeaways for you around best practices related to editing, content types and content structure. 

SEO’s Relationship With Content Marketing

Let’s quickly remind ourselves about what SEO actually means:

SEO is a set of practices designed to improve the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results. (Source: Moz)

Related: SEO Fact Sheet

While SEO itself can’t generate marketing content for you, when practiced in the right way, it can harness your existing content and drastically improve its efficacy and potential audience reach.

Properly utilizing SEO best practices is not sufficient by itself though; you need to have the quality content to back it up. 

To put it another way, think of your content as an ‘actor’ and SEO as the ‘actor’s agent’. No matter how good the agent is, they won’t be able to secure roles in big budget movies unless the actor can do their job. Similarly, a world-renowned actor would struggle to get roles without an efficient and effective agent behind them.

Did you know that Google has been citing ‘quality content’ as SEO’s main driver for the past decade?

"The key to creating a great website is to create the best possible experience for your audience with original and high quality content. If people find your site useful and unique, they may come back again or link to their content on their own websites." - Google Webmaster Training"I wouldn't worry too much about what Google thinks about quality content. Instead of trying to work back how Google's algorithms might be working, I would recommend trying to figure out what your users are actually thinking and doing." - John Mueller, Analyst, Google

So, when it comes to your web page ultimately reaching your target audience, SEO and quality content are as intertwined as fibers in a rope: 

SEO improves content + content improves SEO.

Related: Content Quality Checklist

Don’t let this intimidate you though. Yes, it’s true that these days you have to focus on SEO almost as much as the content creation itself; however, you shouldn’t view SEO as ‘extra work’. Rather, you should see it as almost managing two employees who are working towards the same end goal.

Related: Common SEO Terms

Editorial Best Practices

As SEO continues to be so integral to our ability to find the content we want and need, further practices and standards will keep emerging, multiplying, and shifting (due to user behaviors and new technical developments in search engines). 

Related: What Are Content Standards?

There are already many well-established editorial best practices linked to SEO that you can look to adopt for your web content immediately; whether that’s ensuring you’re setting up your headings with the right H-tags, or writing strong meta descriptions on each and every web page. 

Related: Accessibility Fact Sheet

Assess Competitive Opportunity

One of the key, if not main, purposes behind implementing good editorial practices for SEO is to help your brand rise above the competition. After all, identifying, evaluating, and comparing oneself to a competitor is as fundamental to business as Newton’s first law is to flying to the moon.

Here are four simple steps to assessing your SEO competition:

  1. Identify competitors by conducting some simple keyword research. You can do this both by experimenting with entering keywords into a search engine and getting familar with the types of pages appearing on page 1 of SERPs, and by using specialist tools which pull and analyze data relating to who is ranking highly for certain keywords and keyword phrases. 
  2. You can further evaluate your competitors by looking more deeply at their current standing when it comes to their domain authority (aka DA), SERP features, top keywords, and traffic volumes. This information will help you evaluate the strength of your competitors, as well as the comparative strength of your own business.
  3. Look for keyword gaps. Start by looking at keywords where your competitor outranks you by only one or two positions. Then, look at keywords where your competitor ranks but you don’t. Finally, evaluate keywords that your competitor appears to have recently  lost. Could you swoop in and use these for your own business?
  4. Compare your pages directly with competitor equivalents to determine why they may be outranking you. By taking a closer look at webpage titles, meta descriptions, URL structures, and content types, a competitor’s relative advantages can soon become actionable data points.

After assessing the competitive landscape (in SEO terms), it’s time to dig into the minds of your target audiences.

Get to Know Your Audience

The watchword here is ‘empathy.’ What does your target audience’s journey look like in terms of what they want? And what do they need from you at different points during that journey?

Time to invest some work in understanding your audience. A good starting point is to use your own website analytics as a means for evaluating customer behavior, and examining how audiences have been interacting with your content.

It’s from here that you can start to really understand the lay of the land. For example, do certain subjects or formats yield lower bounce rates? Is there a new topic that is generating clicks for you? Do too many people click off as soon as they hit your homepage?

Once you have a clear idea about what’s turning people on (and off) with your web content, you can more confidently start to plan future content using the topic cluster approach — rather than basing your plan on a handful of one-off keywords. 

Use Topic Clusters

Defining topic clusters related to your business shows that you are knowledgeable about SEO best practices and appreciate its potential on a deeper level. It can be tempting to ‘shoehorn in’ keywords, but this will only result in weaker content that creates nothing but high bounce rates.

Planning content around topic clusters can also help to create a powerful, educated voice for your brand. While it may not be as data driven as looking at click rates or as structurally important as inserting H1’s, topic clusters are vital to your strategy when your goal is to outrank competitors.

In the same vein, it’s important to delve deep with these topics — don’t just provide the same bare-bones information that all your competitors are currently offering, as this is likely to fail in gaining you any traction in terms of page rankings on SERPs.

The trick here is to offer more substantial information that isn’t being written. Unique, high-quality, detailed content that matches user intent will always yield substantially better results than churning out web content that’s too indistinguishable from that of your competitors. It’s from this point that returning repeatedly to the assessing competitive opportunity exercise (above) can help you identify virginal ground your competitors haven’t hit on and give you a sense-check on things before you make any final decisions on future content items you’ve pencilled in for creation.

Keep a Close Eye on Content Types and Structure

Here are a few quick tips from us on this:

  • Create a variety of types of content with featured snippets and related SERP features in mind — consider using formats like FAQs, bullet pointed lists, tables, and videos so that your content stands the best chance of being translated into featured snippets by search engines like Google.
  • Write your metadata as carefully as the content itself — keep it relevant, accurate, helpful, and between 150-160 characters long.
  • Follow accessibility and mobile device delivery best practices — use meaningful title tags and image alt text, remember that transcripts for videos are now expected as standard, set user expectations with clear and accurate hyperlink text, and use responsive design.
  • Optimize content structure on a regular basis — keep on top of fixing potential issues such as broken links, duplicate content, and pages missing  from indexing

While it may seem daunting to optimize a piece for a swath of platforms, it has never been easier thanks to the number of resources, tools, and experts operating today.

Publish Content Consistently

Finally, look to publish and update your web content consistently, as editorial structure is just as important as the content it involves. By setting yourself up as a consistent font of industry information, you establish yourself as a content-producing authority that audiences should return to again and again.

So this could mean committing to publish at least one high quality piece of content each week, and reviewing and updating two to three pieces of web content each month.

Don’t forget that asking for customer feedback and generally keeping the conversation going with your audience via meetings, calls, emails, or even social media, can help give you content ideas for the future.

An Evolving World of SEO and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI has and will continue to change how content creators and audiences use search engines. We only have to glance at the current technology landscape to see how AI technology has permeated the industry. 

How Might New AI Technologies Affect SEO? 

Chatbots may make organic searches more conversational, and reduce the need for users to read through product reviews by harvesting data more selectively. 

Levels of paid media effectiveness for brands and revenue return for media organizations may start to plummet as AIs become the new driving force underpinning search engines.

Related: How Digital Disruption Diverts the Road to Content Success

For better or for worse, AI is firmly positioned to make a significant impact on our online user behaviours. From how we get information and consume content, to how we enagage with different types of organization. 

Keep a look out for future updates from Content Science on how to navigate these developments and capitalize on new practices.

The Authors

Content Science partners with the world’s leading organizations to close the content gap in digital business. We bring together the complete capabilities you need to transform or scale your content approach. Through proprietary data, smart strategy, expert consulting, creative production, and one-of-a-kind products like ContentWRX and Content Science Academy, we turn insight into impact. Don’t simply compete on content. Win.

Colleen Jones is the author of the top-rated book The Content Advantage and president of Content Science, a growing professional services firm that turns content insight into impact. She has advised or trained hundreds of leading companies and organizations as they close the content gap in their digital transformations. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications and training through Content Science Academy.

A member of Mensa and crusader against misinformation, Colleen has earned recognition as a top instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing, and a Content Change Agent by Intercom Magazine. She speaks about content issues in artificial intelligence, digital transformation, and customer experience at corporate and industry events around the world.

Follow Colleen on LinkedIn.

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