In 2014, content ruled the marketing world. Every company (MarketBridge included) raced to write engaging and cutting-edge articles, whitepapers, how-to guides, and blog posts. Each was designed to position the company as a thought leader, with just the right information to massage potential customers through each stage of the buying process and to ensure a sale. However, in the wake of the scramble to create quality content, businesses are faced with a new challenge: getting their content to stand out and to be present in the places where customers are searching. A successful marketing strategy not only requires strong and relevant content, but a strategic content distribution plan.
“According to research by Altimeter, only 26% of marketers are investing in content distribution, even though more than half believe they need to.” (Forbes) In 2015, it will be imperative for businesses to optimize for search and mobile, partner with branded publications, and/or leverage influencers to ensure that their content gets in front of their target. In this post, we’re going to focus on optimization for search, so that when your prospects go looking for answers, your content is the first they find.
Search Optimization, or SEO, refers to “the process of earning traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” search results on search engines.” (Searchengineland) This is different from Search Engine Marketing, or paid search, which involves buying traffic by bidding on keywords. Paid search results show up as the sponsored links at the very top and right hand side of a search results page. While paid search is important, you must start by optimizing your content to ranking highly organically before moving to paid marketing. Optimizing for search is absolutely essential. A report by Chitika Insights showed that more than half of all search engine clicks go to the top two listings on the search results page. If you do not optimize for search, the content you craft so carefully will never be seen.
3 Steps to Optimizing Content for SEO
Step 1: Understand your target:
According to the Marketing Profs How-To Guide, SEO for Content Marketers, the first step in building your SEO strategy is understanding your target consumer. This means going beyond demographic profiling and also considering how their needs change as they move through the sales funnel and as they learn more about the product or industry. So, companies must combine their understanding of who their potential clients are with where they are in the process to figure out which keywords to focus on for each content item.
For example, people at the top of the funnel have just identified that they have a problem or need are most likely discovering and reading up on new concepts or ideas, diagnosing the newly found issue or concern, keeping tabs on their competitors, or trying to understand their own customers’ needs and how they can better cater to those needs. However, as you move down the funnel into engaging a customer, readers are now more informed, and are doing deeper research to try and determine whether other people are also experiencing the same problem or issue and if so, what they are doing to deal with it, why the issue occurred, and the greater impact of the issue. Understanding how the search queries change per potential customer as they move the sales funnel is key to serving them relevant and valuable content.
Once you understand your target, you can create a list of keywords that prospective users are likely to use throughout each step of the process.
Step 2: Optimize Your Content
If possible, optimize for search before you even create new content. When developing your content, look at common questions your target market has, particularly in the beginning of the buying process, or hot topics related to your target keywords. Tools such as Google Trends and Google Correlate can help you find related queries. Also, look at what users are searching within the search bar on your site. If you do not currently have content that matches these searches, but it is relevant to your business, write pieces in relation to those topics. Give the people what they want!
The best strategy to rank highly in search engines such as Google begins with creating the highest possible quality content, which is extremely difficult. To supplement high quality content, keywords demonstrate to the searcher that the content is relevant to their needs.
However, it is very important to note that keywords should always be used in the right context, how the searcher would naturally use them, and not awkwardly sprinkled throughout. In order to avoid over-using them, aim for a keyword density of 2-4% or about every 100 to 200 words. Online tools like this Keyword density calculator can help to avoid over use or keyword “stuffing” Also remember to place keywords up as high on the page, if possible in the first paragraph and in the headings and subheadings, as both Google crawlers and humans will be able to quickly see that the article is what they were looking for, and not bounce off the page, thinking it was an irrelevant result.
In order to make sure that your content is not only gaining clicks and page views, look at metrics such as time on page and the path the user takes once they go to the page. If you are seeing very high bounce rates, your content may not actually be relevant to the keywords you’re ranking for. High bounce rates will signify to Google that your content is not relevant and hurt your ranking. A truly optimized page not only provides content that is unique, but also value that is unique, meaning that they the takeaways and learnings from that content cannot be found on any other pages targeting the same keyword phrases.
Step 3: Optimize your Pages
Each content piece on your site should have its own page, and each page should be optimized to please Google and Bing. In order to best communicate to Google what is on your page, you should ensure that the page:
- Is Crawler/Bot accessible, including the URLs
- Gives most relevant content primary placement (above the fold)
- Has fine-tuned Meta-data. This includes:
- Using the primary keyword phrase at least one in the page’s title as close to the start of the title tag as possible, as well as in the headlines and near the top of the body text.
- URL– check out this downloadable cheat sheet on the “Anatomy of an Optimized URL”
- Image and image alt attributes help tell Google what the images are, and also allows users to see what the images are if they have images turned off.
- Internal and external links – include links to and from popular pages, use anchor links, and repurpose your content into other forms, such as infographics, videos, or podcasts, and link back to the original piece when you publish it.
- Meta description– while Google does not use the Meta description in creating their rankings, it is extremely important and should be treated somewhat like ad copy. It should inform entice searchers to click.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but at a high level will get you started on optimizing your content. For a more technical guide for optimizing for Google crawlers, check out Geoff Kenyon’s Technical Site Audit Checklist.
In the world of SEO, Google is all-powerful, and because their algorithm is constantly changing, your Content Optimization strategy needs to be re-evaluated often and involves a great amount of testing, but is well worth the time to ensure that your prospects can find your content.