Learn how to think like an SEO pro to get all of your content performing its best. See how in this complete content creation guide for SEO.
If you’re not creating content with SEO in mind, you’re missing out on a massive opportunity. If searchers can’t find your content through search results, a large portion of your potential audience is lost.
Even if you have a built-in and loyal following, content infused with best SEO practices will warrant much more positive and qualified traffic.
And with that additional qualified traffic comes the greatest benefit of all – a fatter bottom line.
Think of your business as a guide that helps clients efficiently solve their problems, and your content as a roadmap.
Frodo could have never saved Middle Earth without his guide, Gandalf. Be like Gandalf.
Your roadmap is populated with SEO content. And in this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know to create optimized content like a pro. You’ll learn:
Content takes on many forms. These are some of the major content types you can improve with SEO.
Let’s get to the fun stuff. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how SEO pros create content.
Over the past two decades as a freelance writer, head of content at an agency, and as an agency owner, I’ve discovered that the writing part is actually the easiest. It’s all of the preparation, organization, and marketing strategy that takes the most brainpower.
When you can find a writer or team of writers who have a deep knowledge of SEO, the subject, and writing, you hit the trifecta. I’ve worked with hundreds of writers and only found a few of these unicorns.
Finding professional writers within a specialized niche is effortless. Finding those trained in SEO is challenging.
That means you might have different people involved in creating a single piece of well-optimized content.
Here are the steps top SEO professionals take to create the best content, with SEO baked right in.
Before one word, video clip, or graphic is created, you must understand the landscape of your audience and their goals.
From there, you gain a much more focused idea of just who your audience actually is, and whether your writing will resonate with them.
Find these answers through competitive research, searching online forums like Reddit and Quora, roaming social channels through popular hashtags within that industry, conducting surveys through other agencies, or simply reviewing Google search results as your ideal reader will do.
While searching, take note of their biggest problems or concerns.
For example, while creating a blogging campaign for a motorcycle-specific camping client, we discovered that the audience —mostly middle-aged males with the funds to travel for weeks at a time — experienced a few specific problems.
One recurring issue pertained to the luggage itself; it’s challenging packing tents and camping gear on a bike. The weight of that gear and how to do things like setting up a tent in the proper location are common pain points.
Knowing this, we were able to create a strong content marketing strategy that answered all of these questions through blogs and videos, then amplify that content in the areas we found these people hanging out.
Here’s a simplified five-step process:
Once you understand this, the rest of the steps to creating content like an SEO pro become much easier.
There are dozens of opinions and different points of view on how to best perform keyword research. If you’re just getting started, this keyword research guide for beginners can help.
Once you have the basics down, use these next tips to level up your keyword research game.
If you understand your audience, this is simple and can even be a bit of fun.
Forget about SEO for a bit, and think like a fiction writer. Create a single fictional character and profile him or her.
Back to my motorcycle subject from above — I created “Pirsig” (in honor of philosopher and fellow biking enthusiast Robert M. Pirsig). Now, create some questions and answers for your character:
Now take that list and run it through your favorite keyword tool. If you know your audience, the tools will naturally show your list or better variations that people are actually searching for.
Focus 80% of your strategy on the evergreen keywords that you know will be reliable for the long term, and the other 20% on trending keywords.
Then create your content around that 80/20 split.
Pirsig will always search for motorcycle camping tips and how-to articles to make his travels better. But he will also be searching for the latest touring motorcycle to take him on that adventure or the newest waterproof gear, which offers easy targets for trending keywords.
This is why keyword research should be performed consistently over the course of an ongoing content campaign, especially for the trending keywords. Don’t forget to use Google Trends to discover additional keywords.
Unless you’re the top player in your industry with zillions of pages and links, don’t chase high-volume keywords that are impossible to rank for. Head for the low-to-mid-tier keywords based on the prices of your services or products.
If one lead is worth a $5,000 consulting service, there’s nothing wrong with chasing keywords with a volume of 20 or even lower.
But if you’re selling a $5 product, of course, you’d want much higher volume – unless that $5 product propelled clients into a sales funnel, educated them, and led them to purchase your $5,000 consulting services.
Every concept is different, but having a strong understanding of your products/services and audience makes this much easier.
Most keyword research tools have a “related keywords” section. Use these throughout your content, regardless of whether you’re creating a blog, video description, or some other type of content.
Related keywords help demonstrate the content’s relevance to the topic as a whole.
Also, for even deeper content built around a “Topic Cluster” strategy discussed below, search those related keywords on Google and you’ll discover more of what people are asking and searching for, as well as which topics your competitors are creating content around.
You should always know where your keywords are ranking. Tools like Semrush make it easy to create reports about the keywords you’re tracking.
I typically aim for weekly tracking due to fluctuation, especially with newer websites. I do track the highest ROI keywords daily, as a drastic drop can have a more serious impact.
If you lose or gain positions, take a deeper look. Did you gain positions? Find out which piece of content is succeeding so you can drive more external links towards it and amplify it on social media.
Lost positions? Check if you lost any links, or what competitor is outranking you for that specific keyword. Find that piece of content and see how you can tweak it to perform better.
Are competitors offering more valuable content? Are they using better header tags? How about related keywords, images, and alt text?
Analyze and make your piece better, then continue to track to see your results. Try to do only one change at a time so you can see what worked. SEO is a long-term play where you want to find out what is working and keep that system going.
This is why it’s so vital to track progress and continually revamp older content throughout the year.
Remember, keyword research should not be a one-and-done thing.
SEO pros understand that keywords change over time due to trending or out-of-date topics and product/service changes. Constantly monitor and remember to update your existing content with fresh keywords often (more discussed below).
The Topic Cluster strategy for creating content basically means you create “pillar” pieces of content that serve as your core pieces around a topic, then support those main pieces with various pieces focused on more granular information.
This helps you naturally create content for those with deeper knowledge about the main pillar piece and gives you valuable content for those in a stronger position to buy.
For example, if you are marketing blogging services, you could begin with a pillar piece about the major benefits of blogging and ROI. From there, you could create “cluster” pieces of content in a hierarchical manner from those with more popularity (and consequently more search volume) down to more specific topics with less search volume that serve a specific need.
Your cluster topics could include content on creating a sustainable blog strategy, how-to articles on keyword research, and advice on creating meta descriptions for blogs, for example.
This strategy works best when you’re able to internally link to the pillar piece with various anchor text, which is something we discuss below.
Two of the greatest signals to both search engines and the users are your title tags and meta descriptions. These are the first elements a searcher sees whenever they’re searching for something.
Don’t just slop these together after spending valuable time creating the actual piece of content.
Make sure your title tag garners immediate attention. Create curiosity, or be direct like “How-to” whatever.
Advertising Headlines that Make You Rich by David Garfinkel and Words That Sell by Richard Bayan are always within reach of my standup desk.
Most SEO pros target between 50-60 characters (not words) when creating title tags. But a popular piece on Search Engine Journal reported that Google says there’s no limit on title tag length.
Remember to always use the target keyword in the title tag, and also employ modifiers such as “guide,” “checklist,” “review,” “how to,” etc. It’s also a wise practice to use the same target keyword within the meta description.
Although Google confirms this is not a direct ranking signal, it is one of the most valuable indirect ranking signals. And that target keyword will be bold within the meta description, drawing further attention to it within search results.
Make sure your meta description quickly engages the reader and inspires them to click through to the piece of content. Create curiosity and entertain, and always place a CTA in there.
Remember, you only have around 150 characters to work with. Grab the reader’s attention as soon as possible, which is something your title tag should do also.
Make sure you aren’t so focused on ranking that your grammar suffers. Meta descriptions should be written for readers first.
SEO professionals know content flow and layout are needed for strong UX and to tell search engines quickly what’s important on each page.
This is where understanding on-page SEO can help keep your content ahead of the competition.
Part of this includes wisely using the following elements:
Don’t use “walls” of text. Rather, keep paragraphs short like you would see in those archaic pages of a newspaper.
Use of header tags
Most professionals only use H2 and H3 tags. This keeps the content organized and also sends signals to search engines about what’s more important. Always try to use your target keyword in these, along with “related keywords” that support your target keyword.
Internal and external links
Don’t overstuff with links, and think logically about where to use them – where you can add more value to the reader. There’s no magic number of links, though it’s wise to get at least one for every 100 words if warranted. This can be a combination of internal and external links.
When linking internally, never use the exact anchor text for the same internal page. Always cut the domain name out (searchenginejournal.com) and start at the slash (/) to cut down the work for code readers. Again, think about the user and where you can add the most valuable information from another interior page.
If you are posting new content, always go back to a high authority page, and link to the new page from there. It’ll help show search engines what you think is valuable and enable users to find your most helpful, valuable content.
Keep them at a smaller size for quicker loading. Some religiously use 1920 x 1080, others 880 x 550. Find what’s best for you.
Always use a file name that reflects the title (content-creation-guide-for-seo-pros-1), write descriptive alt text with related keywords, and use a caption when possible.
Make sure it’s short and features your target keyword. Most content management systems like WordPress or Shopify auto-create these and they’re fine, but sometimes it’s wise to make them shorter. Just make sure they always feature your target keyword.
To rank high in search results, SEO pros understand the importance of consistently and regularly adding new content. This is why every organization should use a simple project management calendar.
All you need is a simple Excel or Google Sheet with the following:
Think of your blogging strategy in terms of a publishing workflow.
As with everything, the amount of fresh content you’ll produce depends on budget. Those who can create at least one new blog per week (or more) get to the top of the rankings faster, especially if they understand amplification (more below) to garner strong and reputable links from relevant publications within their niche.
Build consistency into when you publish, too. My team digs deep into analytics and A/B tests everything to find out the most optimal time for prospective readers.
Of course, this is much easier once you have created a following. But make it a practice immediately, and the timely aspect of delivering content to readers will offer greater rewards sooner.
Don’t just post when it’s convenient or as content is created; make sure it’s on a timely schedule and you’re publishing at the same time and day each day.
What does “ongoing SEO” mean? First, it means revisiting and revamping your older content.
Depending on how much content is created, sometimes this refreshing of older content occurs monthly but it could be quarterly or annually, as well.
Again, it all depends on how much fresh content is being created. If a client is creating three new pieces of content weekly, many older and higher-ranking pieces need to be freshened up with new links.
Information changes constantly, and sometimes a tweak of a keyword in a header tag can drive stronger rankings.
Don’t just create content and expect it to constantly deliver qualified traffic to your website. A competitor will always come along and rob a spot, or an algorithm change will send once high-ranking content to Google’s back pages.
If you have extremely strong content with high ROI value that has dropped in rankings, you may consider refreshing the entire piece.
The formula here that has worked for many of my clients is simple:
The largest portions of any ongoing digital marketing campaign should be focused on fresh and valuable content, delivered on a consistent basis. But the SEO pro will take this one step further and do the same for revamping older content.
Content that’s not seen can’t perform.
I’ve read some amazing and engaging content on websites that had poor technical SEO, and stumbled across good content that doesn’t seem to have been promoted via social media or email marketing. That’s a shame and a waste of time (and money!) for everyone.
SEO pros understand the need for constant content amplification. Tools make this simple by enabling your to auto-generate posts and send them into the world of social media, but a personally crafted message will always trump an auto-generated one (and most paid ads!).
The minute a new piece of content publishes, make sure it hits all social media channels ASAP. Every business will have a favorite channel but Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter should all be tested out.
Don’t have the time to do this? Hire a social media expert who understands the power of your chosen channel, and the use of hashtags, consistent posting, and, again, proper grammar.
Nothing can destroy a brand image, whether personal or for business, faster than bad grammar and sloppy spelling.
And never forget about the power of email marketing. That’s your personal audience and the more you feed them valuable content, the longer they’ll be your customer and spread the word about your business (or you!).
Regardless of what type of content you’re trying to create, you must always think like an SEO pro so you can get that hard-earned piece of content ranking well. And the higher the rankings, the higher the ROI.
Consistent, SEO-friendly content is part of a solid longer-term plan in the world of digital marketing, unlike paid advertising channels that disappear once the budget runs out.
When created with some of the tips above – and revisited/revamped often – your content efforts can surely outpace all other forms of digital marketing and advertising. And your competition.
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Ron Lieback is the author of “365 to Vision: Modern Writer’s Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less … [Read full bio]
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