Creating high-quality, useful content is a complete waste of time and money if no one reads it.
Given that nearly half of internet users start their browsing session on a search engine, all content creators need to follow basic search engine optimization (SEO) principles to get their content in front of its intended audience.
But successful SEO is more than stuffing in keywords or appeasing Google’s ever-changing algorithm. For SEO to benefit your content marketing goals, you must consciously blend audience insights and structural elements to improve your content’s audience value and set it above the competition on search rankings.
Let’s explore the basic elements of SEO and the top SEO tools to explain how you can boost your content marketing results.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search engine optimization is a practice where you create content in a way that increases its likelihood of appearing higher in search engine results, thus reaching more of its ideal readers.
At a basic level, SEO is about knowing your target audience, the terms and phrases they use, and how search engines deliver content based on your audience’s search queries. Ask yourself: how would my target buyer seek solutions to their problems? What do they search for? What topics are they interested in?
There are SEO considerations for every aspect of your content, including your headline, body copy, alt descriptions, and behind-the-scenes elements like meta descriptions. We’ll cover just a few top considerations for SEO in this article, but you can learn more about SEO in this piece from Semrush.
Create Content Optimized for Audience Value, Not Just SEO
One important thing to remember: Write content for people, not to benefit SEO.
Any content you create should pique your audience’s interest, answer their questions, provide resources, and otherwise be valuable in some way. This should always be your content focus.
Do not write content with the primary lens of SEO. Not only will you likely come across as robotic or simply uninteresting, but you may also actually hurt your SEO rankings (see our section on “backlinks” below).
5 Essential SEO Elements for Content Marketing
There are a few core SEO elements that all content creators should be aware of. Create your new content with these ideals in mind, and audit your existing blog content to optimize your posts.
Keywords are the words, phrases, and language that your audience uses to discuss and conduct searches around their topics of interest. Keywords are a foundational element of SEO that all brands should document and consistently review.
As a broad example, a marketing technology provider could have keywords like “marketing automation,” “audience insights,” or “customer personas.” There are long-tail keywords, too, which drill further into a clear audience need. In the above example, long-tail keywords would include “best marketing automation technology” or “top marketing tool for identifying audience personas.”
There are plenty of tools to accelerate your keyword search (see our section on top SEO tools below). Or, you can use manual means like social listening and conversations with your customers to understand the right keywords to reach them.
Where you use keywords is as important as how many times you use the keywords. For a blog post, you should include a keyword in the URL, headline, meta description, and a subhead, all in addition to your body copy, to make an impact.
Primarily related to blog posts, your headline should compel your ideal reader to click on your post.
Headlines are often used interchangeably with titles. However, there are specific SEO considerations for your page title that you should be aware of once you’ve established your SEO strategy.
Headlines should be short (no longer than 70 characters), include at least one keyword, and clearly communicate the value of the content. Common headline structures include number-based lists, questions, and “how-to” style guides. Some headlines include terms like “workbook,” “checklist,” or “template” to call out the value-add of the piece directly.
The CoSchedule Headline Analyzer is perfect for experimenting with different headlines. The team scores your draft headline out of 100 and offers advice on how to strengthen it. You can learn more about what makes for a great headline from their team.
SEO Content Structure
Your content structure is relatively self-explanatory—it is how your content flows and elements that enhance its skimmability. Great content includes clear headings, subheads, bullet points, and other visual elements that guide the reader through the piece.
Google recommends that you write a blog post as though you’re writing an outline. Create a hierarchical structure for your content, including headlines, subheads, and bullet points/lists.
Well-structured content is more likely to be read and shared by your ideal reader. Experiment with different content structures to find a format that resonates best with your audience.
SEO Meta Descriptions
A meta description is a short blurb about your content that will appear alongside it on search engines and social media channels. The description should be no more than 260 characters and address what’s in it for me for the audience.
When writing a meta description, ask yourself: If I saw this description returned as a Google search result, would I click on it? If so, would I be satisfied with the content based on the meta description positioning?
SEO Backlinks & Link Building
Backlinks and link-building strategies involve the piece(s) of content that you link to and the various sites that link back to your content.
All content you create should link back to other resources on your site or articles from external sites. The purpose is to build a content ecosystem that guides your reader through various interrelated resources and pieces of content.
From an audience standpoint, links provide a straightforward content journey that allows your reader to continue exploring a topic. Backlinks in your content, especially to high-authority domains, will also signal to search engines that your content is well-researched and can get it to rank higher in search results.
The ultimate goal for link building for SEO is to get high-authority websites to link back to your content. This is not a simple task. There are many strategies to strengthen your link building, but I believe that the best way to get links back to your content is to write content for audience value. By providing value-rich content that is SEO optimized, other content creators can more easily find your assets and link to them in their own content.
Top Free and Paid SEO Tools for Content Marketing
With practice, most content marketing pros can easily address the above SEO elements without needing any tools or resources. But just because content creators can do something manually doesn’t mean they should do it without help.
There are multiple incredibly powerful SEO tools that can automatically identify issues with your content and proactively suggest ways to improve your approach. Additionally, there are tools to streamline your initial SEO planning, such as keywords or what makes a successful headline.
Check out these SEO tools the #ContentChat community recommends for content marketing:
- Alexa.com: Amazon’s Alexa.com offers SEO and competitive analysis software. The tool is great for competitive research to identify content gaps for your keywords and your competitor’s keywords. The team also offers a free browser extension for you to see any website’s Alexa traffic rank and the number of backlinks.
- AnswerThePublic: This tool is a goldmine for content ideas and understanding what people are searching for on a range of topics and brands. This is perfect for refining your keywords and finding new content ideas.
- CoSchedule Headline Analyzer: Many marketers (including me!) love CoSchedule’s headline analyzer. The free tool helps you workshop your headlines by assigning a score to your drafts and helping dissect the headline elements for editing.
- Moz: Moz is an all-in-one SEO toolset with keyword research, backlink research, rank tracking, and other capabilities. The team offers a few free SEO tools along with their paid offerings.
- Semrush: Semrush is a SaaS platform that covers every SEO need, from keyword research and competitor analysis to rank tracking and link building. You can use Semrush for free with limited functionality or choose from their paid packages for more capabilities.
These are just a few of our favorite SEO tools. You can also check out these recommendations for a core set of other content marketing tools to make your life easier.
Boost Your Content Marketing Results Through SEO
Getting started with SEO is much easier than you may think. By optimizing your content headline, keywords, structure, meta description, and backlinks, your team can effectively reach new readers and build authority in your space.
It is best to incorporate your SEO elements into the earliest stages of your content creation. To streamline this process, we’ve created a planning document that bakes all the essential SEO elements into your planning processes.
Download our free content planning template today to start driving more value with your content.
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