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Building an effective SEO content strategy

Search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved. As the way people perform search queries evolves and more complex questions become the norm, today’s SEO is all about providing actual value and meeting consumer needs.

More than ever, building a thorough content strategy is the best way to drive SEO results for your clients. Unfortunately, an amazing 91% of content that gets produced for SEO receives no organic traffic. Most “content strategies” consist of little more than posting two to four blog posts a month, with no strategy or direction. Considering how much content gets posted online every day, it’s vital to invest in content that will rank in search engines, drive results and move the needle for your business.

Steps to building an effective SEO content strategy

    1. Align to business objectives
    2. Develop customer personas
    3. Identify content pillars
    4. Keyword and topic research
    5. Target full funnel
    6. Internal linking
    7. Content distribution
    8. Content optimization

Let’s walk through the basics of each below.

Align your content strategy with your business goals

Every content strategy needs a vision and a value proposition that all of your content should align with. What is the objective of your content? Does this objective align with the messaging, branding and objectives of your business? Many content strategies fail this test and produce content that either doesn’t rank in Google and drive ROI, is inconsistent with the brand or drives empty metrics (e.g., empty traffic, shares and retweets).

A good content strategy defines what success looks like from the beginning. Which metrics mean success to you? Are your objectives to increase brand awareness, lead generation or simply content engagement? Defining your objectives can help you pick metrics that will track success over time, identify what’s working, satisfy stakeholders and win incremental investment in your search engine optimization and content marketing programs. 

Tailor your content to specific customer personas

Once you’ve defined your value proposition and objectives, focus on your customer targeting. To offer your customers something of value, you must know what they find valuable. Start by nailing down a buyer persona — a composite profile of your average customer. Figure out relevant demographics, such as age, gender, location and socioeconomic status. Then dig into the abstract stuff: What do they care about? What type of content do they enjoy? How do they like to consume it?

Don’t be afraid of scaring off potential customers by narrowing your focus. A precisely targeted audience is easier to please and retain, and long-tail keywords might ultimately be easier to rank for. If you attempt to appeal to too many demographics, you won’t end up satisfying any of them.

Pick the pillars of your content strategy

Once your objectives and customers are defined, define the “pillars” of your SEO content strategy: three or four overarching topics that define your business. Your pillars will often reflect what you’re selling and the objectives of your SEO program, and they should be strictly adhered to as you produce content. Every piece of content that you post ultimately should rest under one of these pillars. Each pillar should be vetted from a SEO landscape  and competitive perspective to ensure opportunity and inform your strategy. 

Defining pillars has multiple purposes. As mentioned above, pillars will help keep you organized. They’ll also benefit your website architecture. Your blog or content hub should be defined by “pillar pages” that interlink and organize all related topical content. Content pillars demonstrate to search engines that you are an authority on a subject and deserve to be featured in search results for that topic. Make sure your content stays updated and relevant.

Within your overarching pillar topics, you can cover a range of related subtopics in different ways and even through different mediums. Use keyword research to identify the long-tail opportunities within each pillar, and create content that properly engages your customers. What this does is help you build topical authority, and show to search engines and customers that you are an authority on the topic, and should be ranked accordingly. Speaking of…

Do your keyword (topic) research

Google has shifted its focus from keywords to topics, so good keyword research today is about understanding the landscape of a particular topic and writing on that topic thoroughly and comprehensively. Within a particular pillar, your goal should be to become a trusted resource and to cover all the nuanced and varied information that people might be seeking on that topic.

Start by using Ahrefs or SEMRush to dive deep into a particular topic and get a list of all the subtopics and related keywords that define that overarching pillar. Look for the long-tail queries and find specific questions that your audience is searching for. Organize your queries by user intent and extract keywords from your list that don’t satisfy the right intent. Consolidate closely related keywords together.

Check your competition — most advanced SEO tools offer a way to run a content-gap analysis and see all the keywords your competitors rank for that you don’t. This way, you should be able to source additional opportunities, whether those be underperforming content pieces that you can capitalize on or even keywords where they rank No. 1. Take a close look to see which content your competitors are creating that is succeeding and driving the most links.

Lastly, take this curated list and begin building topics. When building topics, it’s highly recommended to use a combination of a tool like Keywords Everywhere and Google search to get a great look at the SERP along with some contextual, related keywords to add further optimization. Look to see the type of content that is ranking (text, video, whitepaper, infographic or images?). See what the competition looks like, and get an idea of how winnable the SERP is. Ensure that user intent lines up and that you are truly creating something of value.

Target your content to the full marketing funnel

The marketing funnel will look a little different from industry to industry, but generally, customers move from awareness (gathering general non-branded information) to consideration (considering a specific product or service) to decision (making a purchase). As you create content, consider how it will serve people in each of these stages and how you can guide them to the next stage (build user journeys).

Many of the long-tail queries that you target will be generally top-of-funnel. Most people won’t begin by searching for your specific brand — they will have broader questions on subjects related to your industry. Address these subjects, anticipate where customers will begin to move to each next step, and build a logical path to consideration of your specific product. You should layer in your product solutions naturally and avoid forcing a cheap bait and switch. The goal is not to trick anyone — it’s to show how you can actually meet their needs.

With that said, don’t focus entirely on top-of-funnel and mid-funnel creation. With a little research, you might often find low-hanging fruit with deep-funnel or even branded keywords. Using Keywords Everywhere, you can often find a lot of search volume within branded queries that aren’t surfacing the right content or the right answer. Building content to answer these deep-funnel questions could be a quick win.

Keep in mind that different mediums may be appropriate for different stages of the funnel. Users who are considering your product may want a demonstration video, for example, while users who are still gathering information may prefer a white paper or even a podcast. Don’t be afraid to mix it up, as long as you understand why. Focusing on the full-funnel will ensure that no matter what your customers are searching on Google, they will discover the right content, at the right time. 

Insert internal links to all topically related content

Search engines cannot crawl your site for content without a “pathway” of links from one page to the next. Generally speaking, the more helpful internal linking you provide, the more accessible your content is to search engines. Interlinking your topic clusters also boosts your credibility on the topic (i.e., topical authority) in the eyes of Google. Not to mention an even bigger benefit: helping users find what they need quickly. Anticipate the next step of the user — is there another question they will ask after they’ve consumed the content? Provide an easy click within the content to link them directly to the answer.

All relevant content should link back appropriately to a key service page, category or product page, and all related topical content should link together appropriately. Remember, the ultimate goal of attracting web traffic is to secure conversions, so clearly show users where to go next from each page and display calls to action prominently. If someone wants to commit to your brand, there should be no confusion about how they can do so.

Distribute your content directly to your audiences

Just because you build it does not necessarily mean they will come. A lot of great content is created only to never be seen. Organic distribution is key to moving the needle. Exposing your content directly to your audiences will help amplify the content, drive shares and retweets, and hopefully earn backlinks to build SEO equity. 

Return to your customer personas. Where do your social audiences consume content? Identify the places that they frequent and distribute your content there. Online content-sharing communities like Reddit are perfect for this, with one caveat: Make sure you understand the culture and etiquette of a community before you begin sharing your content there. Content that is purely promotional and doesn’t benefit the community will bomb miserably.

You can also distribute relevant content via email, especially to people who have engaged with a top-of-funnel piece. Don’t forget traditional email outreach — identify beneficial relationships and take advantage of opportunities to share helpful content with other websites in your niche.

Optimize your content

The work doesn’t stop once you release your content into the wild. In order to optimize future content, you need to monitor how your existing content performs in search engines and adjust accordingly. It can take up to six months after you post your content to begin seeing organic results, so check back regularly.

Is it gaining traction? Use Search Console to see if it’s starting to rank for any keywords, and refocus the content if necessary. Consider increasing your investment in the kinds of content that are performing especially well. You may be able to expand a successful blog post or video into a series, for example.

If a page isn’t driving any organic traffic, check to see if it’s a destination page from another internal page (for example, answering another question). If the page is very similar to another page that is ranking, you might consolidate them so you don’t leech from your own results. And if the metrics are poor, do some digging and try to understand why this content isn’t resonating.

Even if your content is performing well organically, revisit it every single year. Make sure it’s always updated to ensure you keep your rankings in search engines, and keep that consistent evergreen traffic rolling in.

SEO remains one of the most important ways of putting your brand in front of relevant audiences. 80% of consumers use search engines to find the products and services they need, and 63% will go on to visit a company’s website (MDGAdvertising). Good, valuable content is the key to SEO. It is not easy work by any means, but it’s not complicated, either. Keep the principles of good SEO content in mind as you build your site, and both you and your consumers will be happy with the results.

Andrew Dutcher
Andrew Dutcher
Andrew specializes in enterprise technical SEO and content strategy, with more than a decade of experience working with retail brands such as Carter’s, Banana Republic, and Athleta and B2B brands such as Insight. A lover of food and music, he likes to travel, go to concerts, and seek out new experiences.