Why Content Creation And SEO Belong Together

Marketers are investing billions of dollars in content marketing every year. However, here is a shocking reality: according to Content Marketing Institute, 47% of B2B marketers don’t measure their content ROI. The top reasons cited include “we need an easier way to do this,” and “no formal justification required.” One significant component of measuring content ROI includes tracking traffic to your website — are search engines finding your content? What search queries are bringing the most organic traffic? Are other sites linking to your content?

The same Content Marketing Institute report cites “content creation” as the top success factor. How are you aligning your content creation with Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

There is this belief that optimizing articles for SEO will make your content off-brand, boring, and robotic. It seems like many marketers believe that SEO belongs outside of the content creation process.

This is a problem: marketing teams are generating more content than ever before.  In theory, they are creating content for lead generation purposes. Unfortunately, few people ever read the vast majority of content written. Take these two statistics from Brian Dean’s latest study:

  • 94% of all blog posts have zero external links.
  • 1.3% of articles generate 75% of all social shares. 

In this article, I explain the importance of understanding modern SEO, and how incorporating SEO into your creative process can make a difference for your business.

Is Your Content Creation Workflow Fragmented?

One root problem affecting digital marketing teams is the fact that content creation is a fragmented process. Many companies mostly outsource content creation and have to manage freelance writers. Some companies might not use freelancers, but instead, leverage their in-house experts or guest contributors. And often, SEO agencies are also added to the mix adding yet another stakeholder involved in making search marketing decisions making it extremely difficult to align content creation and SEO at scale.

  • Freelance writers: as companies increasingly outsource their content creation, problems arise as more often than not those writers are not made aware of the company’s SEO strategy.
  • In-house talent and guest contributors: writers outside your marketing team may not understand SEO or even why it’s important when writing content, creating a tremendous missed opportunity. Subject matter experts can be the best candidates to create highly authoritative content.
  • SEO agencies: they help clients ensure their SEO strategy makes sense and provide regular content audits. The problem here is that SEOs typically don’t actually create content, so they are not directly influencing content quality.
  • Content marketing managers: it is not uncommon to find situations where a marketing manager is sitting in between an SEO agency and a pool of writers. With so many stakeholders it can be challenging to understand your role in SEO. More often than not you ignore it.

The Evolution of SEO

SEO used to be all about keywords and technical optimization. Google was not smart enough to pick up synonyms, understand topic relationships, or respond with featured snippets. Early adopters did very well with internet marketing as they monopolized search results. Keyword stuffing was a widespread practice, and SEOs would drive backlinks from sites they controlled themselves. Search marketing was the Wild West, and SEO practitioners we considered geeks and technical folks.

SEO in 2019 is dramatically different than it used to be.Through various algorithm updates over the last ten years, Google has emphasized user experience, domain authority, and content quality. At a high level, SEO today follows the following principles:

  • User engagement: according to a recent study by SEMRush, the most influential ranking factors Google looks at are related to user engagement: time on site, bounce rate,  and pages per session. The importance of matching your content with user intent is critical. If you want your web visitors to spend time on your content, you have to understand what they are trying to find.
Source: SEMrush
  • Topic quality and long-form thought leadership: Google can draw relationships between topics and understand the depth of your content. When targeting competitive search queries, Google looks at how comprehensive your content is. As reported by Brian Dean at Backlinko, articles with 3,000+ words get the highest amount of backlinks.
Source: Backlinko

SEO Tools

Many of the tools content writers use today frequently default to SEO lite. These are tools that remind you about things like including your target keyword in your title tag, filling out your metatags, or incorporating a certain amount of internal links. While it’s not wrong to use these types of tools, they do not meet today’s SEO needs.

Image result for yoast seo tool
Source: Yoast SEO WordPress Plugin

SEO lite tools have become a commodity, and most CMS platforms include features to ensure your technical SEO is in good shape. However, real SEO is all about demonstrating you are a subject matter expert, not about fulfilling a checklist of SEO rules.

So SEO comes down to the quality of your research process, which of course takes time and dedication. You can no longer take shortcuts.

Bring SEO and Writing Together

Since creating authoritative content is an essential factor in modern SEO, how can we insert SEO into the creative writing process?

We break down the content creation process in 7 steps:

  1. Choose topic
  2. Understand topic
  3. Outline
  4. Write
  5. Review
  6. Optimize
  7. Monitor

1. Choose the right topic to write about

Often, marketers are forced to keep their content calendars full, and in that process neglect the importance of creating content that has a clear target audience. For this reason, the first step is to identify opportunity search queries related to your business. This process is typically named “keyword research.”

In general, you will encounter two types of interesting queries to write about:

  1. Queries with high volume and high competition: you might find it challenging to rank for certain queries where you compete with big brands. While you might not make it to page 1 in those queries, you should still write about them as they contribute to your overall domain authority.
  2. Niche queries with less competition: these are queries that might not carry massive traffic but where you can rank high and bring targeted traffic to your site.

2. Understand topic and user intent

Once you’ve decided what search query to write about, you have to understand what your competitors are saying about the topic. Manually reviewing competitors one by one can be very time-consuming. Tools such as Frase that can automatically scan the SERP (the first 20 search results) and give you an overview of the topics they cover make this process easier and faster. Frase leverages machine learning and natural language processing to rank topics.

Source: Frase Content Optimization

In addition to topics, it is essential to analyze the subheadlines used by your competitors. Skimming through subheadlines is a great way to understand the main points these articles are touching on.

3. Build an outline

Once you’ve understood the main topics and subheadlines, you are ready to come up with your outline. This outline will incorporate ideas from your competitors and your unique perspectives. This approach is known as the Skyscraper technique, where you take what others have done and try to make it a lot better by adding your touch.

4. Cover each section as well as you can

Now it is time to write! Having a well-structured outline should significantly accelerate your writing process. At this stage, you want to write comprehensive content for each section, and incorporate relevant links to back up your research. Frase helps you stay focused and productive by letting you write and research in the same place.

5. Editorial review

Once you have a first full draft, it is time to collect feedback from your team. Have your manager or editor read your draft and leave comments. You can also use Frase for this process.

6. Topic optimization

Once you’ve incorporated feedback, it is time to analyze whether you are missing any critical topics in your article. If you are, you need to find out how your competitors are covering the topic, and if possible, incorporate the topic in your article.

7. Publishing and monitoring

After publishing your article, you will want to track performance with Google Search Console. On a quarterly basis, you should consider refreshing your content as Google rewards websites that keep their content fresh and up to date.A

Screenshot of Google Search Console

Conclusions

  • Creating SEO content does not mean you need to create robotic, off-brand, or boring content.
  • If most of your content doesn’t get read, it’s likely because your content strategy lacks understanding of user intent.
  • The same person should perform SEO and content writing or be intimately related.
  • Once you publish content, you should refresh your content quarterly to make sure it remains relevant over time.