Do Conduct Extensive Keyword and Topic Research
Content strategies for SEO start in the trenches with keyword and topical research. There is no substitution for the time and energy that goes into the initial research stages. Every extra minute spent researching and understanding user queries, and their intent is going to save time down the road in the revision and updating process. In fact, we recommend that you spend at least 50% of your total time allocated to SEO content initiatives conducting preliminary research.
Use any number of the keyword tools we recommended in our Guide to Keyword Research and look at competitor rankings to get a better understanding of how you measure up.
Compare your existing rankings with theirs to understand where you excel, where they excel and where you’re both hovering in the middle. In keyword research, the keywords that a competitor ranks for but you don’t are often called gaps. This is why many tools refer to this kind of comparative research as “gap analysis”. From this research, you should be able to categorize their rankings and yours into three basic categories.
Content to Leverage: Your top ranking keywords will be associated with existing content. Leverage the pages which have already achieved strong visibility and effectively draw traffic. In this case, you can leave content generally as it is but spend some time assessing whether or not these pages are driving deeper engagement or conversions. Are you providing strong calls to action and logical next steps somewhere in the content? Essentially, look for ways to maximize the value of traffic to these pages.
Content to Improve: Pages and keywords with some visibility but not strong positioning may just need improvement in terms of on-page optimization. Make sure you’re including all relevant related terms and addressing the full scope of user intents. Refine your keyword usage within the body copy and the page’s meta tags and wherever possible, expand on concepts, update for freshness and incorporate related terms and additional keyword variants.
Content to Create: For the keyword clusters and concepts where you have little to no visibility, create new content that is properly optimized for the scope of language being used to seek out these topics. Do the best you can to satisfy user intent by providing thoughtful, in-depth commentary on a subject to provide the best and most information possible.
Do Optimize for Intents and Descriptors, Not Exact Match Keywords
In modern SEO, carelessly stuffing multiple exact match keywords onto a page of content with no regard for how it reads or functions is a recipe for disaster. Even if the page does manage to rank for the exact match phrases, the usability is going to suffer, which in turn will hamper engagement and could drive bounce rates through the roof. There is little point in ranking for a term only to offer a terrible user experience.
The point of keyword research at this stage of digital marketing is not to list out every possible exact match phrase, and close variant, and cram them onto the page. Your primary objective in keyword research is to better understand your users, clients, and customers. Your goal should be to gain insight into user needs, interests and problems by studying what they search for and how they search for it. Ideally, you’ll want to catalog the range of language used, not cut and paste high volume search terms and cross your fingers. We recommend not just compiling exact match keyword phrases but distilling them down into the unique words and concepts that are related to the search.
From there, we recommend classifying keywords based on their fundamental part of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives (and adverbs, occasionally). When you have a comprehensive breakdown of the nouns, verbs, and adjectives that searchers include within their queries, then you are in the position to begin thinking about tone, voice, and structure. Users tell us all about their interests on any given subject through the way they search for it. Use those expressed interests to craft your narrative and tell a story using a logical flow.
Do Create Content Throughout the Funnel
While you are cataloging the range of language used, also analyze where in the conversion funnel or user journey those kinds of queries may fall. If you haven’t already, spend some time learning about short, mid and long tail keyword segments and how they generally align with the conversion funnel.
A thorough and comprehensive SEO content plan should address common searches throughout the funnel and not just focus on high volume, short-tail keywords. Savvy SEO practitioners have long appreciated the fact that the right mid- to long-tail queries have far less competition and present much lower barriers to entry into competitive search landscapes.
But be sure to have meaningful and appropriate “next steps” for a user in that particular segment of the funnel. These may be calls to action, forms or additional links to related content. By having suitable content that covers topics which fit into the middle and upper portions of the conversion funnel, you can better nurture leads and maintain brand awareness when the zero-moment-of-truth (ZMOT) comes for the user.
Do Create Content That’s Indexable and Loads Well on Mobile.
With all the emphasis on keywords and user intents, the more technical concerns related to content can be forgotten. But if the Googlebot cannot readily crawl or index a piece of content, then there is little point in optimizing it for keywords at all. Technical SEO is foundational SEO, it is the bare minimum needed to even appear consistently within Google’s search results.
As sophisticated as Google has become, there are still some forms of content that Googlebot and other search engine spiders have difficulty recognizing and understanding. If you are using video, for example, be sure to give it a clear title and description. A strong piece of video content, will not be served from an SEO perspective by a title like Fl36ghK.avi or Video1. For bonus points, consider providing a full-text transcript of the video so that search engines can fully understand the nature of the content and it’s relevance to various queries. These kinds of natural voice and speech transcripts are often chock full of mid- to long-tail keywords too.
At this point in search, we can’t talk content, nevermind search engine optimization, without talking about mobile. As we move toward a mobile-first index, the mobile presentation and usability of a page can be even more important than the desktop version. In many cases, the order of ranking pages will vary between desktop and mobile devices and so mobile rankings should also be examined as a part of the content creation process.
Additionally, in terms of technical SEO, if a page doesn’t load quickly on a mobile device, and provide a positive mobile user experience, then long-term visibility is going to suffer. In many cases, responsive websites are still built for a desktop first and will tile “down” into phones, often with mixed results. We recommend a mobile-first design and SEO philosophy, where content and sites are built around mobile consumption first and then configured to tile “up” into bigger monitor sizes.
Writing content for SEO can often be intimidating because the processes, the tools, and the recipes for success always seem to be changing. So do stay on top of the latest industry trends and best practices and find some thought leaders to follow. But if you invest the proper amount of time researching before writing copy, you’re going to save time down the road. It is much easier to build content that is informed by keywords and sufficiently reflects the scope of user intent from the beginning, rather than trying to insert keywords later, when you realize you don’t rank. Also, make sure that your content is solid from a technical and mobile perspective. If you focus on aligning the right pieces of content to the right funnel stages, you may find that you are able to improve your overall organic search engine visibility and turn users into customers by giving them everything they need.