Practical tips and an example of creating a content plan for SEO
This is the 11th step in the 12 part series on SEO. In this article I’m looking at the crucial role of content marketing and providing easy-to-implement tips on how you can use it to support your SEO program.
Why is content relevant to SEO?
There are several ways in which content can support SEO by boosting search presence:
1. Content drives search presence
It's simple, to be found by searchers and search engines, you have got to have something for them to find. But to compete it needs to be outstanding content. Moving into 2013, content is still king as it helps you build webpages & other content assets (e.g. videos) that can be indexed. This applies to database driven product pages for e-commerce as well as CMS driven content pages like Buying Guides and Articles.
2. Content variety can increase SERPs penetration
Search results pages contain multiple content formats: webpages, videos, images, products, social content etc.
Intelligent content marketing programs build multiple content formats around keyword targets to increase the number of possible listings in SERPs.
Multiple content formats included in main Google index
3. Fresh content is good
New and updated webpages send signals to search engines that say your content is “of this moment”.
Online searchers respond to ‘new’ content that provides something they didn’t have before.
Regular updates and additions to XML sitemaps encourage search engines to crawl your site more frequently.
4. Unique content has value
Unique, relevant content has been a quality signal for search engines for a long time. However, since 2011 the likes of Google have increased the value they place of ‘high quality’ content. The Panda/Farmer update is worth learning more about.
Duplicate content isn’t valued by search engines and makes it harder for them to decide which piece of content is the original and best to display. If you cram SERPs with repetitive content (e.g. repurposed content you took from somewhere else), it’s unlikely searchers will perceive the value in what you are offering.
This also means understanding how to avoid content duplication on your website. For example, you might have an HTML content page for which you also create a pdf version. This could produce 2 URLs:
Both have identical content. It’s good practice to tell search engines which is the primary version, as this helps them display the most relevant version to searchers.
I recommend reading Tess Neale’s article on duplicate content and canonicalization for a more thorough explanation.
Minimising the risk of penalties for low quality content
After the Panda (content) & Penguin (link neighbourhood) updates, some domains experienced significant fluctuations in rankings, with previously high-ranking webpages effectively disappearing overnight. You can’t guarantee that what you do won’t ever get slapped by Google-monster but by understanding the likely causes of a penalty, you can manage this risk and increase the likelihood that search engines will consider your content to be good quality.
Try to focus on quality, not quantity.
The latter comes with time, the former should drive your content marketing program. Below is a list of “turn offs” that can lead to search engines devaluing your content and searchers switching off.
- Duplicate content where you have spun multiple webpages to target the same keywords to try and stuff SERPs (put yourself in the shoes of the searcher – if they find a search page with 3 almost identical organic webpage listings, how do they know what to click?).
- Article spinning – adding your content to multiple article sites that are exact copies of each other (there are a few article farms out there).
- Plagiarised content – changing a few words doesn’t mask copying and there is no value in regurgitating what another company has already produced, unless you are discussing their content for a genuine reason and provide a proper reference.
- Irrelevant content – lots of copy stuffed with keywords is meaningless if it isn’t adding value to the user and contextually relevant + you risk being penalised by search engines if/when they discover this.
- Lots of links from low quality external domains pointing to your landing page (especially if these links are inserted in irrelevant content - see example webpage below from Google).
Building out a content marketing plan for SEO keyphrase targets
Don’t worry, this doesn’t need to be over-complicated. If you’re new to SEO and content marketing, then your best bet is to focus on one area of your product set and build a program from there. The learning you will get from this will help you roll-out across other areas of your product set.
I find it easiest to think in terms of customer objections and use the following thought process:
- What are the different types of visitor for the webpages I am trying to optimise for SEO?
- What are the motivations of each customer type?
- What information would they require to make a decision?
- What objections might they have to making a purchase?
- What content do I already have that helps tackle these objections?
- Is it in the most logical place in the user journey?
- Is it optimised for my keyphrase targets?
- What content am I missing that would help deliver conversions?
- Where should it sit within the user journey?
- How can I optimise it based on my keyphrase targets?
- What resource do I have to create this content?
- Who is best qualified to create this content?
- How long will it take me to get this content produced?
- How much will I need to invest?
If you run through these questions, you’ll soon have a rough plan for what content assets you need to help you satisfy customer demand. You can then produce the content for the end-user and optimise it based on a keyphrase target list (see below).
Remember – always start with the end-user needs. Don’t produce keyword optimised content and then try and make it work on your site. What’s the use of having webpages on page 1 in Google if none of your target customers want to read them?
You should always produce content that stands the best chance of being used & shared. Then you optimise this to ensure it ticks the boxes for search engines.
Working example – content structure for keyphrase target list
I’m basing this on a fictitious retail website that sells men’s designer denim. The web owner wants to use content marketing to support the SEO for a specific brand they stock: Dries Van Noten (that is real!). And as Google accounts for approximately 89% of the UK search market, I’m using this as the example search engine.
Keyword research is carried using the Google Keyword Tool and Google Insights, as well as the retailer’s own web analytics tools, to determine:
- Which keywords are being searched for in the UK over the past 12 months.
- Which of these are trending.
- Which keywords the website already has good organic ranking for (i.e. regularly on page 1).
From this research the web owner builds a hitlist of three keyword queries (keyphrases):
- Mens designer denim
- Designer denim for men
- Dries van noten denim
The content marketing is centred around promoting:
- A new Designer Denim landing page
- A Dries Van Noten Brand landing page
- A series of product pages beneath this.
The product pages are reviewed to ensure the target keywords are included (but not mentioned an unnatural amount of times) in:
- Page titles.
- Meta descriptions.
- Product long description.
- H1 tags.
- Other relevant body copy.
Also, the web owner checks that all of these pages are included in the XML sitemap and have been submitted to Google.
As the product catalogue has a data field for “Brand”, the web owners adds “Dries Van Noten” to this field to ensure this text is displayed on relevant product pages beneath the product name.
Supporting content to boost SEO coverage
The web owner wants to build a story around the brand, to provide content that will be of interest to shoppers and encourage people to share with their friends to increase the viral impact. To achieve this they storyboard a creative concept that walks through likely conversion paths and the content that would help increase conversion for each of these. This is translated into a list of content requirements:
Guiding people on how to choose the right denim style for them. This is advertorial style with links to relevant products. The guide is built in HTML and added to the website. It can be found via site search and also through the global navigation features, like the mega drop down menu. It is optimised for the keyword query “mens designer denim”.
The Buying Guide URL is submitted via Webmaster Tools to help it get indexed quicker.
The web owner has a WordPress blog running on a sub-directory of the main site. This has 250 subscribers. A series of blog posts are scheduled focussing on the Dries Van Noten brand history and recent PR activity. These are outsourced to a freelancer writer who delivers one per week for a 6 week cycle. The articles are optimised for the keywords “designer denim for men” and “dries van noten denim”.
The blog URLs are submitted via Webmaster Tools to help them get indexed quicker.
To support the blogging, a more lengthy article is written in which the designer Dries Van Noten is interviewed and explains the history of the brand and the vision of the current designs. This article is added to the site in the same way as the buying guide. It is optimised for the keyword query “dries van noten denim”.
The article URL is submitted via Webmaster Tools to help it get indexed quicker.
The marketing team at Dries Van Noten provide some PR videos that can be added to the web owner’s YouTube channel and included on the site, on their own landing pages + on relevant product pages. The video landing pages are optimised for the keyword query “dries van noten denim” and product specific videos for product specific terms.
The on-site video URLs are submitted via Webmaster Tools to help them get indexed quicker.
Each time a content asset is produced, the URL link is added across all social networks managed by the business (Twitter, Facebook & Pinterest).
The web owner also taps into key influencers with whom a relationship has been built via social media. They are encouraged to share this content and rewarded with an exclusive offer (discount, free item etc).
Extending the reach
The web owner looks at other ways to promote the content and give search engines a signal that it is relevant and valuable.
- Slideshare – the web owner puts together a presentation on all the products, providing lifestyle and product shots as well as information: this is added to Slideshare.
- Online PR – new range launches and brand stories are seeded via channels like PRWeb
- Guest blogging – the web owner knows a few fashion bloggers and gets them to write blogs on the new range & brand content, raising awareness of this content to a wider audience. Optimised anchor text is used on links back to the webpages.
Above is a simple example for how content marketing can be used to increase the number of content assets you have that are optimised for a keyword target and available for search engines to index, and how you can use that content to influence your audiences to interact with it, helping send strong advocacy signals to search engines.
Each time you create a content asset, think about the following:
- Where does it sit in the user journey?
- What keywords should it be optimised for?
- What call to action do I need to include to encourage conversion?
- How do I integrate it across the site to increase exposure?
- How do I ensure it is indexed by search engines?
- How can I use social media to extend reach?
- Which influencers do I know who can help me spread the word?
- Do all external links pass through SEO juice (e.g. avoid the “nofollow” attribute)?
For further reading I’d recommend Dave Chaffey’s excellent SEO Guide in which you can find more detailed information.
Is that enough info to digest for today? Content marketing is an essential component of SEO. The shape and style of your content marketing will depend heavily on the markets you operate in and the demographics of your target customers.
The key take-away is this – if you want to search engines to see you, you need to provide something to be seen. This means looking at the wider potential for content within SEO, not just obsessing over on-page optimisation.
Your challenge is to determine how best to increase the impact and reach of your content, and then dig into the available reporting suites to ensure you are measuring impact and using the learning from the analysis to inform your on going content marketing plan.
Please drop by and share your thoughts and if you feel the urge, share this with your friends/colleagues to encourage further debate.
Did you miss the other posts in this SEO series? You can catch up here:
If you have followed the first 10 steps in this SEO series, you have either cured your insomnia or found the path to enlightenment. Either way – I hope they’ve helped you review or improve your approach.
- Using Web analytics to benchmark performance and drive insight through data
- Competitor analysis for SEO
- Using the Google Toolkit to identify good performing keywords and execute keyword research
- Targeting the full tail of search
- Testing page titles & meta descriptions to boost SEO
- Weeding out poor performing keywords with the help of Google Analytics
- The role of landing page optimisation and testing in SEO
- Using Google Analytics for link building
- How to identify quality domains for SEO
- The increasing importance of social media within SEO