Search engine optimization (SEO) should be a linchpin in any successful content marketing plan. But with search engines updating algorithms and ranking factors on a frequent basis, how is a mortal content marketer supposed to keep up?
Tracy Gold wrote an invaluable Ultimate SEO Checklist in 2014, which did a fantastic job of covering SEO fundamentals from a content marketing perspective. However, considering how much search has evolved in just the last few years, I thought it would be useful to revisit the key points from Tracy’s original discussion and update them with fresh advice, insights, and resources that can help you keep your SEO efforts in top shape.
1. Document your SEO strategy
If you follow CMI at all, you should already know that documenting your content marketing strategy is essential for success. Since SEO is a key part of that strategy, you should start your efforts by documenting your plans for using this technique, i.e., what your priorities are, what methods you work with, how you measure your performance, and what goals you want SEO to ultimately help you achieve. Depending on how far along your company is, you may need to write a basic strategy first, and then revisit it once you’ve audited and analyzed your current SEO efforts and data (more on that later!).
2. View SEO and content marketing as partners, not opponents
You may have read or heard about a “debate” about SEO vs. content marketing. Agencies that specialize in one or the other may benefit from creating distance between SEO and content marketing. But this way of thinking can be detrimental to the success of your content. In fact, Barry Feldman goes so far as to call this siloed thinking “ridiculous.”
Besides, as Neil Patel smartly points out in his science-backed analysis of what makes content successful, Google cares about how expert, authoritative, and trustworthy the content is. If you stay focused on creating readable, high-quality content, your search rankings will naturally increase. With this in mind, stop wasting time wondering whether you should implement content marketing or SEO. These disciplines are melding together and will provide greater success if they are allowed to work in tandem.
If you create readable, high-quality content, your search rankings will naturally increase via @neilpatel #SEO
3. Audit your SEO
A good first step for improving your SEO is to audit your progress. In an industry with rapidly changing algorithms, writes Amanda DiSilvestro, “Re-evaluating your SEO and your strategies is one of the only ways to stay on top of these changes and continue to move your website content forward.” Check out her post for steps and tools to audit your SEO.
- Bonus tip: Need some help managing the audit process? Julia McCoy shares some setup and evaluation tips, along with nine analytics you should track in your audits.
You need to re-evaluate #SEO & strategies to keep moving your website #content forward via @ADiSilvestro
4. Use owned, paid, and earned media in SEO
There’s no set “first page” of search results anymore, writes Christopher Baldock in his post on using an owned, paid, and earned strategy for SEO. Just as owned, paid, and earned media all factor into any good public relations and content marketing strategy, they can help content marketers navigate increasingly personalized search results.
5. Consider the 4 V’s of semantic search
As search becomes more focused on semantics (aka the context of a search) and the algorithms themselves get better at interpreting signals of user intent (see the sidebar, below), marketers need to readjust the way they evaluate SEO success.
For example, in his aforementioned post, Christopher Baldock argues that marketers should measure based on four components – volume, velocity, variety, and veracity – that he contends should be incorporated into how content marketers create and promote their efforts. Jump back over to his post for a more detailed breakdown of these terms, and specific metrics attached to them.
Christopher Baldock defines semantic search (often used interchangeably with contextual search), as “how search engines discern context and user intent to return more definitive answers, rather than the hierarchical list of guesses Google presented previously. Simply, semantic search helps Google present better results for any given search.” Let’s break that down:
When search engines take user intent into account, that means two people searching for the exact same term could have completely different results. Results could be impacted by user location, search history, social media network, and “likes,” as well as many other factors, depending on the search engine’s particular algorithm.
In addition to the context of user intent, search engines are striving to incorporate the context of the content itself into search results. That means engines are moving even further away from simple keyword-driven search and into a more holistic view of content creation – such as using meta-data (like rich snippets), incorporating synonyms into search, and taking into account what other information appears on an entire site or page – to determine how relevant a result may be to the user’s intended search.
“Better” results means more useful and relevant results. Search engines are hoping to anticipate user needs and provide answers, not just results. For example, I searched for “Weather in Culver City, CA,” and Google displayed an interactive chart that summarized the current weather in my city, along with a 7-day forecast of expected temperatures, wind speeds, and precipitation levels – all the information I needed, and I didn’t even have to click away from the search page to get it.
6. Choose the right keyword
While keyword selection and optimization should take a back seat to creating high-quality content that your audience needs and wants, systematic keyword research will help improve the chances your epic content will reach those who will benefit most. To help get you started, Julia McCoy shares a brief but functional guide to finding the right keywords to meet your goals.
To help you track and manage your efforts, Mike Murray has also created a 12-step checklist (below), which you can print and use whenever you need to research keywords for a particular website page or other content initiative.
- Bonus tip: Check out Ann Smarty’s suggestions of free keyword tools that will help with your research.
7. Optimize your content for your selected keywords
Once you’ve identified your target keywords, you have to be sure that your content is optimized for them. Alex Chris outlines a helpful technique that can improve your page ranking for a specific keyword or phrase you are pursuing; while Neil Patel shares his recommendations on how to make every piece of content you create more SEO friendly.
8. Combine SEO and social media
To succeed in the world of semantic search, your social media and SEO efforts should complement each other. Lee Odden breaks down why content marketers need both social and search to attract, engage, and convert customers.
9. Choose the right agency
Odden also covers the need to choose the right agency to manage SEO. He breaks down the difference between an SEO-driven and a social-driven agency in an easy-to-digest chart (below). As with SEO and content marketing, SEO and social media often are presented as opponents, scrambling for a bigger bite of the budget; in reality, they work best together. If your agency favors one discipline at the expense of the other, you could be jeopardizing your content marketing success. At the end of the day, writes Odden, both SEO and social media “rely on content to achieve success.”
At the end of the day, both #SEO & #socialmedia rely on #content to achieve success via @leeodden
10. Capitalize on inbound links from authoritative sites
Inbound links from earned, paid, and owned media are a huge part of SEO success. One way to generate the authority necessary to increase your inbound links is to take advantage of a surprising SEO giant, SlideShare. As Mark Sherbin explains, SlideShare is built to be extremely search friendly, which makes content posted on the site likely to rank highly on Google.
#Content posted on @SlideShare will likely rank highly on Google via @MarkSherbin #SEO
Additionally, because presentations posted on SlideShare are automatically transcribed into text, search engines can surface relevant content more easily, than, say, slides that are posted on your own website with no transcription. Furthermore, SlideShare itself even offers basic SEO tools to help give your presentations an extra search boost. You can learn more about them in CMI’s e-book, on super-simple SlideShare tips for content marketing.
- Bonus tip: Follow these six linking techniques Neil Patel recommends for getting your content ranked, found, and read.
11. Use rich snippets to increase clickability
Rich snippets are a way to provide search engines with more-detailed insights and information on your content, which they can use to enhance how your content is displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs). By making your content more appealing and more visible, rich snippets can help drive increased attention and click-throughs.
There are many types of rich snippets – video previews, images, product reviews, and ratings. As Aleh Barysevich mentions in his post on ways to boost search rankings, implementing rich snippets is as easy as adding a bit of code to mark up the data. But if you’d like to see the full process, Amanda DiSilvestro outlines it here.
12. Activate your employees for greater SEO power
Paul Shapiro calls employees a “sleeping giant for content marketing SEO.” Content marketers already strive to activate employees on social media, he says, so why shouldn’t we place the same emphasis on involving employees in SEO? In his post, Shapiro covers how to encourage employees to join in your SEO efforts, from initial training to the benefits both your employees and your marketing will see.
Employees are a sleeping giant for #contentmarketing #SEO says @fighto
13. Measure your success
Though it may be difficult to measure success when there is no longer just one home page, there are ways to gauge search engine optimization success as it ties into your content marketing strategy. Arnie Kuenn walks through using one of the most popular (and free) tools, Google Analytics, to measure content marketing and SEO success. You can also jump back to Christopher Baldock’s post for specific metrics that remain meaningful even as search increasingly becomes semantics-focused.
14. Use SEO data to inform all aspects of content marketing
As frustrating as the ever-changing world of SEO can be, content marketers should rejoice about one aspect: There’s a wealth of data produced by SEO efforts that we can use to improve content marketing efforts. For example, check out Andy Crestodina’s guide on how to analyze the SEO insights provided by Google Analytics and apply your findings to improve your future content creation and distribution efforts. Furthermore, take a look at Jey Pandian’s post, in which he details a 10-step process for using search data to build more specific and practical buyer personas.
15. Keep learning about SEO
It would be naïve to think that the entire scope of SEO could be encompassed in any one post – or even in an amazingly thorough selection of posts (cough … those linked in this article, cough …) Not to mention that SEO is a highly dynamic field that is constantly evolving and improving its capabilities. In fact, experts are predicting that SEO may soon take on a whole new dimension through the use of smarter machines that can learn the nature and intent of a search – without engineers even having to reprogram them.
- Bonus tip: To help you prepare for this shift, Wizard of Moz Rand Fishkin walks through five elements of next-generation SEO that content marketers should start paying attention to.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to keep up with all the latest SEO trends and techniques by doing some of your own research. The following list of blogs and resources can help give you a solid foundation upon which to build over time:
- Google Official Blog
- The Moz Blog
- Search Engine Watch
- Search Engine Land
- Search Engine Journal
- SEO by the Sea
- Matt Cutts’ Blog
- HigherVisibility’s Blog
- The Search Agents
- SEO.com Blog
- TopRank Marketing’s SEO Blog
- SEO: The Free Beginner’s Guide from Moz
- Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
- SEO Subreddit
- 68 SEO Content Tools, Trends, and Tips for B2B and B2C Brands
- Next-Generation SEO Strategies That Will Future-Proof Your Content
Please feel free to add your resources and suggestions for search engine optimization in the comments.
In addition, to help you remember and follow the most critical SEO best practices, the CMI team has created a handy infographic you can use as a reference and share with your own content team.
Click to view the full infographic
Image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute