The content explosion and the search engines’ shift toward meaning-based content in 2013 has led to a tipping of the scales in the opposite direction from where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was before Panda and Penguin.
Gone are the days of black hat practices like keyword stuffing and paid linking schemes that resulted in a bad user experience and little focus on content quality.puzzle
While the increased focus on quality has created a better user experience, now the challenge of the marketer is to integrate SEO best practices into the content creation process.
User-friendly content must also be easy to find, and that means including SEO in every step of the process.
Because investments in content are growing at a record pace, the pressure for online marketers to show increased returns are heightened. And with organic search as a leading source of traffic for many marketers, streamlining the content creation process while optimizing for search is a business necessity.
In other words, the content must be optimized for the user as well as the search engines before it is even published.
The Integrated Approach To SEO
The integration of search engine needs and user needs means that the SEO has to be involved at every step of the content creation process. Here’s how SEO-focused thinking can be applied to the primary steps of content creation:
1. Understand User Needs & Behavior
How do users search for the type of content you offer, and in what volume?
Keyword research early on in the process will help focus content creation efforts, preventing the wasted effort of creating content for low-volume keywords. Keyword research hits the sweet spot in your content creation efforts by finding the balance between users’ product-related needs, the product offerings, and how users actually search the web.
As you think about keywords, consider the impact of Google Hummingbird and how Google is getting even better at semantic search. This can be a huge opportunity if you put yourself in your users’ shoes and understand how they actually search – think conversational search!
2. Write Optimized Content
Many writers are aware of SEO best practices such as keyword density and headline optimization. From our experience working with enterprise content teams, we understand that content writers are generally motivated to optimize their content for organic search.
If the SEO team empowers writers with the skills and tools to keep SEO best practices in mind, content will be search engine friendly right out of the gate.
For example, one of the largest online travel companies commits resources to training content writers on how to optimize content for search as they write. Writers are educated on the value of organic search and the positive business impact of ranking in search engines, as illustrated through historical performance of their sites. Content writers are also trained to edit titles, header tags, meta tags, image tags and the page URL, among other on-page optimizations.
When SEO tools are seamlessly embedded in the content writing workflow, SEO is not seen as an obstacle, but integral to the process of publishing quality search-engine friendly content.
3. Optimize Technical SEO Elements
Enabling writers to make content inherently search friendly is a huge leap toward making content ready for search. This also helps the SEO team scale.
However, there are some technical SEO tasks that writers may not be equipped to handle. The SEO team needs to take the baton and review pages before publishing to ensure consistency between the content, keywords and the technical elements of each page.
This step is not just about optimizing the on-page elements. The critical part of this step is to define a process that ensures a smooth hand-off from the content writers to the SEO team (or a process which allows parallel writing and optimizing on-page elements).
Regardless of how you choose to manage these two steps, be sure to document and communicate this across the SEO and content teams.
4. Publish & Promote
The two primary SEO elements involved in publishing and promotion are linking and social engagement.
Are the linking sites relevant to both the content and the keywords that content is being optimized for? Look at the internal links, both inbound and outbound, to make sure they are linked to the relevant pages. Also look at your competitors’ link profiles for pages similar to yours. Who links to their pages and what is their authority?
When looking at backlinks, set tasks around the opportunities and the competitor tactics you have identified. The benefit of backlink analysis and activity accrues over a longer period of time, so it’s important to follow up periodically after content is published.
As for social engagement, are keywords being reinforced in social promotion? What is the social media traction for your competitors’ pages? Does it correlate with their rank? Given the volatile nature of trending topics on social media, it’s also important to consistently analyze current trends and incorporate relevant messages into your content.
Don’t force these topics in your social sharing — instead, let these questions guide your actions:
What’s trending in social media that is relevant to your content?
What semantics are used to describe these topics?
Are these adjacent to the keywords that the content is optimized for? If yes, you are in a good place to share relevant content that is trending in social media.
Feeding America followed such a process to drive 2.5X traffic growth from Twitter.
Again, the success in this phase largely depends on how you map the workflow between the SEO, social and link building team/team members.
5. Measure SEO & Business Performance
Measuring content performance takes all your investment in technology, content, SEO, link building and social media to its logical end.
Once the content is published, you need to carefully track it against business outcomes. How well do the pages rank? Is the conversion rate within your target range? Is new content cannibalizing existing content? How are related groups of new pages performing?
Track not only overall traffic from organic search but business performance of pages based on their rank and estimated keyword volume. Examine competitive strategies for competing content. What can be learned from actual performance that can be applied to future SEO and content creation efforts?
Secure Search & Content
Steps 2 through 5 are a practical implementation of page-based SEO, which I have been a huge proponent of, particularly since the move to 100% Secure Search.
The loss of keyword referral data forces us to look at SEO from a page-based view reinforcing the position that a focus on content is what truly matters. Keywords still are core to SEO, but SEO is not exclusively about keywords, and the use of keyword data has changed.
For a more detailed description of Page-based SEO and how it is all the more important in a Secure Search world, my article, Secure Search & SEO Methodology: Key Strategies & Enablers, shares more detail.
A true content-centric content strategy is also SEO-centric. SEO thinking needs to step out of its silo and into every step of the content marketing process: audience research, writing, optimization, promotion and measurement.
Successful content programs are built from a foundation of not only knowing the audience and what they want, but knowing how they look for what they want. By integrating search engine needs with human and business needs, marketers will achieve greater success in 2014 and beyond.
This article was written by Paula VonKretschmann
Paula is the strategic analyst and logistics force behind Rare Pixel Design. She specializes in metrics tracking efforts, virtual monetization and new media marketing. Paula currently studies Neuropsychology and Human Centered Design at the University of Colorado Denver. In her spare time she enjoys gaming, gardening and the great outdoors.