From keyword research to content promotion, here’s the 411 on creating a content strategy designed with SEO in mind.
Here, you’ll find:
- The three pillars of a successful SEO content strategy
- A breakdown of steps to follow
- Pro tips to help you optimize your website content
- How to create a plan for regular content revitalization
Creating a content strategy is a much more in-depth process than sitting down, typing out a bunch of words, and posting them on your website.
This is especially true if you want to improve your search engine optimization (SEO). But why does having an effective, SEO-informed content strategy even matter?
For starters, a great content strategy can increase your organic search traffic, grow your email subscribers, and help expand your social reach.
HubSpot data shows 70% of marketers actively invest in content marketing. Publishing content that engages users and addresses their pain points can boost your overall brand authority and help lift you over your competitors.
Below, we’ve broken the process down into three pillars highlighting what to do before, during, and after creating your content for SEO success.
Pillar 1: Content planning and preparation
There’s a bit of legwork to be done before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). This stage is extremely important, so we advise not skipping it to rush right into content creation.
Understand your target audience
The first questions to ask before you write any piece of content or start developing your content strategy are: Who is my target audience? Who do I want to read and digest this content?
If you’ve already built your ideal buyer personas, that’s great! You’re one step ahead. If not, you can begin building them by considering your target audience’s demographics, such as:
- Age range
- Job titles
- Stages of life (parenting, college student, etc.)
If you use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like HubSpot to gather your metrics, you likely have access to a lot of this data already. You can also find demographic and interest data in Google Analytics and within the analytics section of your social media profiles.
If the data doesn’t align with what you’d expect somehow — if it looks radically different in your Google Analytics profile compared to your existing CRM, for example — you could be missing out on opportunities or speaking to the wrong audience.
All of these pieces can help you understand which content topics guide users along the buyer’s journey.
Pro tip: In Google Analytics, “Affinity Audiences” allows you to see information on people who are actively researching a product or service. You might be surprised at what you find in these audience interest categories, so they’re worth looking into.
Conduct keyword and topic research
While keywords are important for Google Search, they don’t mean as much in the world of SEO as they used to. After all, Google updates its algorithm hundreds of times a year.
Some are bigger than others, but the updates in the last few years — such as the MUM update and the Helpful Content update — have focused on better understanding human language and how specific search terms relate to topics. (Perhaps unsurprising, due to voice search and smart speakers.)
Thinking beyond keywords will be increasingly important as Google’s algorithm continues down the path of machine learning and artificial intelligence to power search engine results pages. Luckily, tools like Semrush can help you delve deeper into the topics and questions people type into the search bar.
When conducting keyword research, check what keywords you’re already ranking for first so you can focus your energy on new or lower-ranking ones.
You can identify any keyword gaps where you might be missing opportunities with tools like Moz and Ahrefs. These platforms allow you to find related keywords, analyze search volume, and the difficulty of terms you discovered but aren’t ranking for (yet).
In most cases, the higher volume a term is, the more difficult it will be to rank for due to competition. Start by focusing on a mid-level search term; you’ll still get a sizable amount of web traffic, but you won’t be competing with the industry’s biggest names just yet.
Build a content calendar
Many marketers think of blogs when they hear the word “content.” But there are loads of content types that can increase user engagement and earn more backlinks.
- Case studies
- Landing pages
- Product pages
Of course, some pieces of content are going to take longer to build out than others. Planning it out ahead of time and having a schedule or deadlines in place will keep you organized and on the right track. This can be as simple or as detailed as you want — even a shared Google spreadsheet can get the job done.
Details you may want to include in your editorial calendar are:
- The type of content
- The due date for the author to submit the content
- The date the content is slated to go live
- The associated keyword or terms
- The author’s name
An effective content calendar aids in more than just keeping up with your posting schedule. You can also use it when you’re brainstorming new content topics; look back to make sure you don’t cover the same topic too often or to identify which pieces might be ready for a revamp.
Pillar 2: Writing and editing your content
Once you’ve done all the research and prepped your content calendar, it’s time for the actual writing!
Write for people, not search engines
When it comes to your SEO content strategy, it’s important to remember that you should be writing for people, not search engines.
Consider Google’s main goal: to provide users with the best, most engaging content that answers the query they typed into the search box. If you can satisfy those requirements, that’s going to help you rank.
For proof, look no further than Google’s Helpful Content update we mentioned above. Early reports show this update targets (and downgrades) websites that churn out unhelpful content created for search engines instead of humans.
So, if you find yourself obsessing over things like content length or the number of times that you use the keyword within a piece, take a step back and put yourself in the user’s shoes instead.
If a user stumbled across your content, would they find the information valuable?
Would they want to:
- Read more because your content really wowed them?
- Be inclined to trust you since your content helped them or answered their question?
- Take an action like signing up for a newsletter or downloading another piece of content?
- Request a demo or consultation?
E-A-T is a relatively new concept in the SEO world. It stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. This acronym is meant to help content developers and SEO pros understand how Google rates high-quality content.
E-A-T really comes into play for sites Google considers “your money, your life,” or YMYL (though it applies to other topics as well). These include topics like legal and financial advice, medical issues, and other things that impact your quality of life.
Google understands that, for these search queries, finding the best and most accurate answers is particularly paramount, so they want to make sure the info they provide is sourced from qualified professionals.
Ask these questions to determine E-A-T standards
There are questions you can ask yourself to see if you’re meeting and prioritizing E-A-T standards. For expertise, you can ask:
- Is this content written by an expert or an enthusiast who is reliable and knows the topic well?
- Would Google be able to recognize this person as an expert?
- Is the piece referencing credible sources and actual statistics?
- Should people feel comfortable trusting this content with YMYL decisions?
For authority, you can ask:
- If someone researched the site producing this content, would they come away with the impression that it was trustworthy and recognized as an authority?
- Does the site have verified client testimonials?
- Is there an “About” page on the website?
- Is there any additional content on the site showing this brand has authority on this topic?
For trustworthiness, you can ask:
- Does the content present itself in a way that makes you want to trust it?
- Is there trustworthiness in the expertise of the person writing the piece?
- Are there trustworthy backlinks pointing to this site?
- Does the overall site look trustworthy?
E-A-T is a complex topic, but it ties back to the concept of writing for people and not search engines.
Pro tip: When it comes to writing, there’s no one-size-fits-all number for how many times you should use a specific keyword in your copy. If you think you might be on the verge of keyword stuffing, read your content out loud and see if it sounds natural to the human ear.
Repurpose your content
According to Semrush, businesses are regularly increasing their content marketing budgets. Repurposing content allows you to stay within the marketing budget while achieving your SEO goals.
Besides updating your old pieces of content to keep them fresh, here are a few other ways to repurpose them.
- Change the format: Turn blogs into podcasts, videos into blogs, client content into videos, and the like. With a strategic plan, you can create a brand-new piece of content that doesn’t just improve your rankings, but also becomes more digestible for other segments of your target audience.
- Write ebooks and guides: Ebooks and guides don’t just make excellent lead magnets. With a little work, they become fully crawlable by the search engines. You may have enough content on your website to create an ebook today.
- Design social media posts: Instead of simply reposting your content on social media, you can enlist a graphic designer or use a free service like Canva to turn quotes or other digestible pieces of information into eye-catching social media posts.
Look at each piece of high-ranking content as an opportunity to create at least one more viable, complementary piece.
While you’re updating your content, don’t forget about other aspects of on-page SEO. Revamping your blogs or web copy is a big part of this process, but it’s also important to update your title tags, headings and subheadings, alt text, internal links, and the like. Search engines and human readers alike will benefit from having the latest versions of your copy.
Aim for the featured snippet
Optimizing content for the featured snippet allows you to potentially take up significant real estate on the first search engine results page (SERP). If you can secure the featured snippet for one of your most important target keywords, you’re likely to see an improvement in SEO almost instantly.
According to HubSpot, high-traffic keywords that ranked as the featured snippet saw an average increase in CTR of over 114%, even if they ranked #1.
When writing new content, it’s wise to keep the featured snippet in mind. You can also refresh your old content with featured snippet optimization tricks. These include providing a direct, concise answer to the question your audience may be asking, and optimizing for long-tail keywords.
A Search Engine Watch study showed that more than 55% of featured snippets are triggered by 10-word keywords, while single-word keywords appear less than 5% of the time.
Pillar 3: Publishing and promoting your content
Once the copy is written and optimized, it’s time to publish and promote. After all, what good is high-quality content if no one sees it?
Remember on-site SEO best practices
On-site SEO refers to general best practices to keep in mind with any piece you write. This includes things like having a page title and meta description. Ideally, both of these elements will have keywords in them, since Google uses them to help understand the content of your page.
Headings also help Google understand the different sections of your content. If you have a long-form article with more than 1,000 words, those headings help search engines understand what each section is about. They also improve the user experience by making it easier for users to scan and quickly find the content they’re looking for.
For SEO purposes, don’t forget about link building! It’s a good idea to leverage internal links with keyword-rich anchor text.
You’ve probably seen plenty of links with “click here” or “learn more” as their anchor text. But Google uses anchor text to understand what the page’s content is about, so if you’re using generic phrases, Google may have a harder time understanding your link.
You can also use high-authority external links as needed. If you’re referencing a study from the CDC or the FDA, for example, those are good high-authority external links.
Have a content revitalization strategy
Writing new, exciting content is key to a successful SEO strategy. But if you publish a piece of content and never touch it again, you’re doing your business a major disservice.
If you have blogs that are a few (or even several) years old, it’s likely that some of the information isn’t accurate or relevant anymore. Regularly updating those pieces with the latest links and stats when they become available can have a huge impact on your site traffic and rankings.
That’s where conducting a content audit comes in. The seven steps to conduct a content audit are:
- Create a spreadsheet list of all content URLs
- Determine how many sessions each page had over the past six months (or longer depending on how much traffic comes to your site) and how many backlinks point to each page
- Identify web pages with “thin content” that may not satisfy a user’s search intent
- Look for posts with duplicate or similar topics and consider removing or combining them into one long-form piece
- Identify posts with outdated content or older statistics and update with more recent information
- Don’t forget to redirect posts removed from the site to avoid 404 errors
- Repeat this process regularly (once or twice a year) to keep your content fresh and relevant
This can be a time-intensive exercise, depending on how much content you post, but the results are worth it.
Amplify your content
A piece of content you don’t share via social media or email channels is unlikely to get much traction. Although social shares and likes aren’t direct organic ranking factors, if Google sees a lot of engagement on a page or post, it’s a signal of high-quality content.
Amplifying your content on social channels and through email also keeps your brand top-of-mind for your audience.
High-quality content can be a game-changer when it comes to your site’s SEO. Not only that, but it helps illustrate to searchers that you’re a trustworthy thought leader.
By following the above steps and having a solid, doable plan in place, you’ll have a robust, thorough content library worth bragging about.
If tackling your own content marketing strategy feels a little out of reach, we gotchu. Contact HawkSEM to learn more about how an expert SEO strategy can boost your organic traffic, increase conversions, and contribute to your overall digital marketing efforts.
Or to learn more on this topic, check out our webinar recording, 10 Steps to Creating a Content Strategy for SEO.
This article has been updated and was originally published in April 2020.