If you’re in marketing, you’ve likely heard the phrase “content is king.” Content is valuable because it can raise brand awareness, drive traffic to your site, and rack up social shares — but only if it’s done correctly. Too often marketing departments or small business owners will create content simply because they feel they should, but creating content for the sake of creating content is rarely effective. Search engines like Google are becoming increasingly savvy about how they evaluate and rank content, and competition for high-volume keywords is fierce. If you want content that both readers and search engines will love, you need to think strategically and use content optimization.
I’ve broken down content optimization into four steps that include writing for Google and HTML optimization, as well as other important factors like content strategy and promotion. When everything comes together you’ll have solid piece of content that’s positioned to rank well!
Step 1: Preparing your content strategy
Before you even begin writing content you need to decide why you’re writing it. (Hint: if you’re writing just to have something to throw on your blog, don’t waste your time). Content creation should have a purpose, whether it’s driving traffic to your site, ranking for a keyword, gaining social shares, or building thought leadership. These goals aren’t mutually exclusive, and in fact many of them go hand in hand; for example, if your content gains a high number of social shares, you’re probably raising brand awareness at the same time. But having a goal in mind will keep you from wasting your time on topics or formats that don’t fill your needs.
Many businesses stuff their blogs with company news and product announcements, but such posts rarely get traction because people simply don’t care. Instead of overloading potential customers with marketing messages, make it your goal to provide information that people will actually find informative or entertaining. Content that addresses commonly-asked customer questions, analyzes a new industry trend, or makes a funny observation is much more likely to bet read and shared than yet another article praising your company.
Once you’ve chosen your topic you’ll want to select a target keyword, which you’ll use when optimizing. Your target keyword is, quite simply, the most appropriate and relevant word to describe your content. You can use a free tool like Google Keyword Planner to search for keywords around your topic. The ideal target keyword will have low to medium competition and a decent search volume.
For a more in-depth look at keywords, Moz has a great guide on keyword research.
Step 2: Writing your content
In the not-so-distant past, poorly-written content could rank well. Pieces were cobbled together, stuffed with keywords, and posted to the internet without any regard as to whether or not it was useful (and it often wasn’t). As Google got smarter, algorithm updates began penalizing thin, useless content. These new updates made it increasingly difficult for content creators to cut corners and still rank well.
Getting into Google’s good graces basically boils down to common sense: if you’re going to create content, make sure it’s well-written, covers your topic in-depth, and sounds natural. Google wants the best search experience for its users, so content that gives searchers a thorough understanding of the target topic is much more likely to succeed in search rankings.
Step 3: Optimizing for SEO
Although well-written content is a big factor in the rankings game, it’s just one of hundreds of ranking factors. There are various on-page HTML elements that can also be optimized to make it more likely that you’ll rank for your chosen term, and free plugins like Yoast SEO make it easy to implement these changes. We’ll cover on-page SEO in its own blog post later, but here are some optimization opportunities you should be aware of:
The title tag is an important ranking factor that appears as the blue link in search results. (In the example below, “Pure Visibility – Internet Marketing Company in Michigan”). Your title tag is used to explain what the content of your page is about, and it should include your target keyword as early in the tag as possible. Title tags that are too long will get cut off in search results, so you’ll want to keep it to 30-55 characters in length.
In search results, meta descriptions appear below the title tag and give a more detailed description of the page. Although it’s not a ranking factor, meta descriptions are a good opportunity to give searchers more information and entice them to click through. They should be 155 characters or less.
H1 tags and subheadings
On the actual content page, the H1 tag is your main title or heading and should include your target keyword or a variation. It is good practice to use H2 or H3 tags for subheadings in your content, but be sure there is only one H1 tag.
Image alt text
Search engines can’t crawl images, but they can read an image’s alt text. Image alt text is a description of the image that is set in the image HTML tag so crawlers and screen readers can understand what it’s about. Not only is this useful for search engines, it’s vital for providing accessibility in low-vision situations or to visually-impaired users.
Step 4: Promoting your content
Once your content has been planned, written, optimized, and proofread, it’s time to post and promote. Social media is a great place to promote your content, and your content plan should include status updates for each platform you use, including an accompanying visual.
Putting it all together
Good results don’t happen overnight. It takes Google time to crawl and index your content, and rankings may move slowly at first. With time, however, a solid strategy and good writing will pay off.
Are you inspired to dive in and begin writing and optimizing your next blog post? Download this content best practices tip sheet for a handy checklist to use while you work!