Updated: December 6th, 2021
Search engine optimization (or SEO) is an ever-changing field. But throughout all these changes, one thing has remained constant, and that’s the importance of content to SEO.
Content and SEO go hand-in-hand. People use search engines to find answers or solutions to their questions and search engines serve up the most relevant content available. While the top search result might be a blog post, a YouTube video, or a product description – it’s all content.
There is a deep relationship between content and SEO, and it can sometimes be difficult to understand how they relate to each other. This guide explores that relationship and provides actionable insights into how businesses can use content to support their SEO efforts.
This article covers:
The Relationship between SEO and Content Marketing
Simply put, great content is the basis for SEO success.
High-quality, original content is the foundation for all your other SEO efforts. That’s precisely why the Periodic Table of SEO Success starts with the content “elements,” with content quality as the leading element.
What is SEO Content?
To understand what SEO content means, it’s useful to look at the phrase in two parts:
- The first part – “SEO” (search engine optimization) – is the process of optimizing your website and content so that it shows up higher in search engine results for specific search terms.
- The second part – “content” – is any information that you publish online that can be indexed by search engines. This includes website content, blog posts, images, graphics, and videos.
So, taken as a whole, SEO content is any content that is created to increase search engine rankings and boost traffic to your website.
Search engines display their organic search results according to the relevance and authority of a web page. Relevance is determined by how often you use specific keywords and phrases within the content of a web page, and authority is determined by the number of trustworthy backlinks that point to that page.
To make your content more SEO-friendly, your content should be organized logically, contain relevant keywords, and be written with your audience in mind.
The Difference Between SEO and Content Marketing
Generally speaking, SEO is more technical with a focus on website design and structure. It involves making a website more user-friendly, using relevant keywords, optimizing metadata, and building high-quality links. All these things work together to help each web page rank higher in search engines for specific search terms.
Content marketing, on the other hand, involves the publishing of useful content across your website, blog, and social media accounts to attract and retain your target audience and ultimately create interest in your products and services.
There’s an overlap between the two:
- Optimizing your content for search engines helps it rank better, so you’ll achieve more of your content marketing goals.
- Publishing quality content will improve your website’s authority and relevance, which increases its SEO power.
On-Page Content Optimization
Good content and SEO work hand in hand. Without one, you won’t have much success with the other. If you don’t have the high-quality content that search engines want, your SEO rankings and readership are likely to be low. At the same time, even the best content doesn’t do you much good if your target audience isn’t able to find your website.
That’s why it’s important to consistently write SEO-friendly content that people enjoy reading. With that in mind, here are a few tips and best practices to create great content and improve your SEO.
Focus on Keywords– But Not Too Much
Keywords still have a place in your SEO strategy, just be sure to use them thoughtfully and organically in your content while trying to use keyword phrases in addition to individual keywords. Using a keyword phrase in your title might not make for the most exciting or witty headline, but it will make your article more likely to be viewed by your target audience.
Use Headings Properly
Headings are an essential but often overlooked aspect of good SEO. Header tags are the HTML tags that range from H1 to H6 and are used to create an outline and add structure to an article or blog post. Using headings wisely can help Google gain a better understanding of the main topic of longer articles.
For example, it’s critical to include an H1 tag on each page, but only use one. Multiple H1 tags can confuse search engines by implying that the content is about several main topics. Also, don’t use the same text in the header for every page.
Optimize the Length of Your Posts
Google tends to prefer longer articles. One study from HubSpot shows that the ideal blog post length of a first-page search result on Google is between 2,100-2,400 words.
While it’s not necessary to churn out a post of that length each time you update your blog, you’ll probably have better luck if you tend to create longer posts in general. Breaking up your lengthy posts into manageable chunks for your readers (using bullet points, subheadings, and lists) can help prevent the dreaded “wall of text” while also improving readability.
Use Location-Specific Phrases
When people perform online searches, they’re frequently looking for local businesses. This is especially true when they’re searching on their mobile devices.
If you have a local company, make sure to include geo-specific terms in your keyword phrases to ensure that your content shows up prominently in those searches. Use these location-specific keyword phrases in your titles and within your H1 tags, and you’ll see your local SEO improve rapidly.
Check out this post to learn more about how to localize your content.
Quality links are one of the most important ingredients of a healthy SEO strategy. They help Google, and other search engines measure the relevance of websites and return better results to searchers. If you want to improve your search engine rankings, you need quality links.
But developing a strong link profile is not all that simple. First, you need to understand what makes a good link, what makes a bad link, and what you can do to optimize your website for better results.
The PageRank algorithm was developed by Google to rank websites in their search engine results pages.
Essentially, it works by measuring the importance of a website by counting the number and quality of links to its pages. Any link from one page to another passes some of its PageRank (or link juice) to the page it’s linking to, giving that page a PageRank boost.
But with inbound links, outbound links, internal links, and more, the connection between links and SEO can get very confusing. Understanding the relationship between different link types is helpful in improving your SEO strategy.
Every web page should have internal links (pointing to the same page or another page on the same domain) and outbound links (pointing to external web domains). They help users navigate a site and find useful information. These links also help search engines understand and index a site. But they are all formed differently.
- Anchor texts. These are often highlighted, clickable links that can help increase search rankings for specific keywords. However, Google punishes repetitive anchor texts, so use a mixture of non-repetitive branded and keyword-rich phrases.
- Naked URLs. This is when the full URL is displayed in the link. Generally, they’re not as powerful as anchor texts for SEO.
- Brand citations. Instead of showing the full URL of a company website, the link is merely the name of the company.
- An image link can be an excellent navigational tool, but only when it’s a link. (The alt attribute tag for the image acts like anchor text.)
Reciprocal links. These happen when two webmasters agree to provide a hyperlink to each other’s websites. If they both share the same target market or offer complimentary services or products, the link can be seen as relevant. If not, reciprocal links can harm PageRank.
There are also variations in the way each link operates:
- Do follow links are standard links that search engines can follow and count toward PageRank.
- Nofollow links have extra markup in the code that tells Google crawlers to ignore the link, so it doesn’t count toward PageRank.
Google advises using the nofollow tag for paid links or for links to websites you don’t trust. Many sites use the nofollow tag for the comments section to avoid spam links.
What makes one link more valuable than another? There are a few factors you need to consider.
You can measure website authority in a variety of ways. There’s the Google PageRank toolbar (not available on some browsers) that displays the PageRank of a website, but it’s not updated that often so the information can be misleading.
Then there’s the SEO toolbar from Moz, including MozRank and other metrics. The Alexa toolbar is another respected SEO tool that is more focused on web traffic. If you can get links from sites with more authority, you have the potential to outrank your competitors in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Relevant links are more valuable. It’s better to get a link from a website that is related to your industry or field of expertise. Outbound links should also be relevant to the context of your content. Internal links will have more value if they help users and search engines navigate your site more easily.
There are no guarantees when it comes to how Google and other search engines rank links based on their location within a page. However, most SEO experts agree that links within the content are more valuable than navigational links or links in the page footer.
These factors, taken together with the link type, all contribute to link value. Considering all these details, we can summarize what makes some links better than others.
Good links include:
- Backlinks from websites with more authority.
- Backlinks from relevant websites
- Backlinks from websites that already rank high in SERPs for certain keywords.
- Anchor text links that are relevant to the content they are a part of and link to.
Bad links include:
- Links to websites or link directories with little useful content.
- Links to websites that are not related to the content of your website.
- Links to poor-quality websites.
- Broken links.
- Repetitive keywords or exact-match keyword phrases in internal links.
- Purchased links without the no-follow tag.
As long as you try to create SEO content naturally and avoid stuffing your web pages with over-optimized links, you don’t need to be obsessed with building links for SEO.
Just focus on delivering quality content to your readers and help them find the information they are looking for.
This should result in a balanced link profile that includes a variety of natural links that are more useful and credible to humans and search engines.
How to group and structure your content will also have an impact on SEO. Enter topical optimization.
With topical optimization, businesses have moved away from optimizing for single keywords and instead optimize for larger topics and key phrases (also known as long-tail keywords). No more singular, competitive keywords – we’re talking strings of them. And it makes sense to use this approach, considering that the vast majority of page views are a direct result of long-tail keywords.
Think Like a Customer
Think about how you search for something on the web. To get more specific results, you tend to enter more words.
For example, a consumer might be looking for someone to repair a specific brand of air conditioner, do-it-yourself repair tips, troubleshooting advice, pricing information for various repairs, etc. Ideally, an HVAC company would optimize pages for each of the keywords associated with the topic of air conditioner repair.
With topical optimization, you don’t just hope to rank for certain keywords; you build out your content to dominate an entire topic. Instead of focusing on a single competitive keyword, business marketers can create more substantial, natural, and helpful content for consumers.
This SEO concept will only become increasingly important, as Google and other search engines implement more sophisticated semantic indexing.
Keyword research is critical but be sure to think about intent as well. Some users are seeking general information; some might be looking for a particular product and others might be comparing different products. In our previous example, there were some different intents for the simple keyword phrase ‘air conditioner repair’ – that’s why it was essential to optimize for all the various keywords associated with that topic.
Why It’s Good for Business
So, how does topical optimization help your SEO ranking?
- Long-tail keywords or phrases generally have less competition, placing you on the first page of search results, with a higher likelihood of ‘winning the click.’
- The majority of people search long-tail keywords, so by answering questions or providing information more naturally, you can do a better job of matching the searcher’s intent.
- Longer keywords tend to be easier to rank for than more specific single or double keyword phrases. Therefore, search engines will rate sites that employ this tactic higher.
- The more specific the search is, the more it reflects the searcher’s interest level. This equals more sales conversions.
- By showing thoughtfulness and insight, you can build up your authority and provide a superior user experience to potential customers.
It’s All About the People
As the SEO landscape is always changing, you need to continually adapt your content and your optimization techniques to work well with Google’s latest algorithms. Not only is topical optimization an effective way to rank higher in search results, but it’s also a smart content marketing strategy. After all, it’s actual people who search for stuff, not search engine bots!
So, is keyword research dead? No way. Topical optimization isn’t a complete departure from keywords; it’s just a different way of using them. And, when you create content that delivers what searchers are looking for, everybody wins.
SEO Content Optimization Checklist
There is a lot to think about when it comes to creating SEO content. Use this checklist when publishing your next piece of content to make sure you’ve got the most essential elements of SEO covered.
1. Research optimal keywords
Use Google Adwords Keyword Planner to discover how various terms and phrases perform in search results and try to use more detailed long-tail key phrases that fit your specific product or service. If the page is not relevant to a human user for their search query intent, they’re unlikely to stick around.
2. Use keywords naturally and strategically
Don’t repeat a keyword too often just because it’s the highest-ranking search term for your audience. You will end up sounding insincere and robotic. Google will also punish that page by pushing it lower down the search results. Instead, try to mix in synonyms and syntactically related phrases to your keywords.
Your title tags are the first thing people will see when viewing your organic result after a search. Ensure they speak to the topical relevance of the page, use your brand name if possible, and bear in mind that visible character count generally hovers between 45 and 55 characters.
4. Include relevant keywords in the URL
By including keywords and other descriptive wording in your URLs, you will be confirming the association between what the viewer is searching for and how your website can help them. From a backlink acquisition point of view, many links to your site will simply have anchor text that is the URL itself, in which case, those keyword-rich file names can help to boost your rankings. Moz suggests using the following format for your URLs:
5. Optimize your images
The faster a site loads, the less likely human users are to bounce. Load time consequently is an algorithmic factor and affects your website’s standing in the search engine results. In many cases, the largest contributor to page load times are images, so having compressed image file sizes is always recommended.
6. Write compelling meta descriptions
Visible meta descriptions are usually 155-160 character snippets used to summarize a webpage’s content and are included with the title tags in the search engine results. Optimizing these descriptions to effectively describe your site to viewers and capture their interest is important. While these do not directly impact your rankings, they do have an indirect effect based on human user behavior.
Use authoritative websites as references, and include hyperlinks within the text. This helps Google determine the relevancy and accuracy of your content. You can use nofollow tags if you choose.
When possible, reference and link to previous relevant blog posts or site pages using descriptive anchor text. This helps drive new interest to these older blog posts and can contribute to a boost in their rankings. Don’t think of your content as a one-time use, but try to leverage it as much as possible.
According to an article from Statista, the facts say people like to share content, so much so that the amount of links and posts shared is impossible to measure. It shows that people like to share content they relate to or that makes them feel connected to others with similar interests.
Even though people do in fact like to share content, they won’t do it if it requires too much effort. If you work on creating a streamlined sharing process for your content, you will be in a better position to have that content shared, which may garner a boost in backlinks with equity.
10. Optimize for mobile
Google now penalizes sites that are not optimized for mobile devices. Instead of creating a mobile site from scratch, consider adapting a responsive design. To check if your site is compliant, click here.
Guest blogging is not dead, nor is asking for links despite what you may have heard. Infographics are also a great way to gain traction, as is getting active on social media.
12. Analyze and track your data
Install Google Analytics or another tracking software to track your visitors and analyze visitor entry sources and points, exit sources, and behavior while on your site.
By keeping track of your metrics, you will be able to devise a gap analysis and make data-driven decisions on what is working and what’s not on your site to enable strategic and tactical refinements to your SEO and content strategy.
While Google Analytics comes with a handful of pre-built reports, using secondary dimensions is a great way to gain even deeper insights about your website.
Create an Editorial Calendar for SEO Content
When you know what type of content you want to create and where you’re going to publish it, it’s time to develop an editorial calendar to make sure you stick to a schedule and don’t run out of ideas.
- Share the calendar with your team and set up reminders to ensure deadlines are met.
- Set a realistic content publishing frequency. It’s better to create one great piece of SEO content than two average pieces.
- Don’t plan too far in advance. Changes in staff, marketing goals, and budgets can all affect the direction of your content creation. Plan for only a few months in advance so that you have room to adapt your content to suit demand and changing business needs.
Analyze the Results of Your SEO Content
To maximize the impact of SEO content, it’s necessary to regularly monitor the results of your efforts so you can see what works and what doesn’t. In other words, you need to track your SEO performance over time.
You can then focus on the different types of content and keyword strategies that result in more audience engagement and conversions, depending on your marketing goals.
Use free analytics software such as Google Analytics to monitor page views, time spent on web pages, backlinks to your website, social shares, and conversion rates.
Look for patterns and tweak your editorial calendar so that your content caters more to the needs and desires of your audience.
SEO Trends for Now and the Future
Keeping up with the evolving world of SEO is a necessity in driving more traffic to your website. Implementing these changes now while also keeping an eye towards the future is essential to maintaining success.
Here is an overview of the different SEO trends making an impact on Google.
1. Focus on Mobile Users
The vast majority of searches are performed on mobile devices. Optimizing your website for mobile users has never been more important. Reducing load times, creating an excellent user experience, improving responsiveness, and making it easy to navigate your site are all key aspects to creating a mobile-friendly website.
2. Understanding Searcher’s Intent
Google is always refining its algorithm, as it’s key to create content that’s focused on searcher intent. Businesses need to spend more time addressing the searcher needs instead of only talking about your products or services. Making it easy to find relevant information while optimizing the website to improve its speed is essential to ranking higher.
3. Rise in Zero-Click Searches
Many searches on Google are zero-click searches, which means that the search ends without a click. This often happens due to the prevalence of Featured Snippets for answering questions and Google business listings that provide contact information. The rise in zero-click searches only makes it even more important to focus on keyword research to target specific terms.
4. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) will only continue to make a big impact on the SEO industry. Google is already using AI technology to make it easier for users to find information. Additionally, many of the well-known marketing companies are implementing AI-based solutions to gain a better understanding of algorithm changes to further maximize the efficiency of SEO strategies.
5. Creating High-Quality Original Content
Producing high-quality and original content is essential to any SEO marketing strategy. Unique content helps your website to stand out from the masses while also making it easier to connect with your audience. A few different ways you can produce original content include using case studies, white papers, customer testimonials, and more.
It’s difficult to achieve consistently good results online if you don’t understand the close relationship between SEO and content marketing.
Through on-page content optimization, link building, and the various content marketing strategies outlined here, you can deliver content that search engines understand and your audience will love. And ultimately, this will give you a strong online presence that benefits your business for many years to come.