On his Quicksprout blog, Neil Patel once compared content marketing and SEO to “peanut butter and jelly,” saying, “you can eat them on their own, and they are delicious… but what happens when you combine them? They complement each other, right?”
Even if, for some unfathomable reason you don’t actually like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (if you have a peanut allergy, I’ll let it slide), you’ll probably still understand the analogy: on their own, peanut butter and jelly are both pretty awesome, but put them together and you have… culinary perfection.
The same can be said of content marketing and SEO (except, perhaps, the culinary part). They can each exist in isolation, but the best and most effective online marketing strategies contain both.
Many of the more technical aspects of SEO (I’m thinking on-page here) are as important today as they ever were (if not, even more so). Best practices in this area haven’t really changed that much, either.
Off-page SEO, however (namely, link-building), has evolved exponentially. Back in the day, you could rely on automated directory listings and article marketing links to see you climb up the rankings.
Today, though, content marketing is a fundamental link-building tactic for most SEOs, and while link-building might not be the only reason marketers would choose to invest in content, it is a pretty big one.
Understanding how intertwined SEO and content are, and how content can impact your search presence, are the first steps in incorporating SEO best practices into your content marketing. Let’s take a look at 15 more…
1. Choose the right keywords
Once upon a time, choosing a single keyword and shoehorning it into a single page multiple times was an acceptable optimization strategy (so long as you didn’t ask Google, anyway). Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that things have changed.
Attaching a single keyword to a single page does not work, primarily because search engines don’t attach a single keyword to a single page – and they haven’t for a long time. Ever since search engines introduced latent semantic indexing – a process which assesses the frequency of a term and its relation to other terms on the page – they’ve been pretty smart about establishing the overriding themes of a page, and consequently, the keywords a page should rank for.
This means that in a page about Corvettes, search engines might also expect to see words like “Chevrolet”, “General Motors”, “convertible” and “Sting Ray”. LSI also enables search engines to distinguish between distinct topics with the same name (i.e. “apple” a fruit, and “Apple” the technology company). The concept is actually much simpler than its name implies.
Consequently, when performing keyword research (for content marketing purposes), you shouldn’t be looking to pinpoint just one or two top-tier phrases – you should try to identify a wealth of terms and phrases that relate to the key theme or themes of your content.
You might argue that this will come naturally when writing the content and, to an extent, you’d be right. However, you can (and probably will) uncover phrases and terms you never would have thought to include by taking the time to research what people are searching for and what phrases competing pages are using. This can make a huge difference to the relevancy of the finished product and the search visibility it enjoys.
As with all keyword research, Google’s Keyword Planner is a pretty solid place to start. However tools like KeywordDiscovery.com (paid), Answer The Public (free), and SEO Compare (also free) can help to guide your content by providing further, invaluable insights into search behavior.
2. Go mobile
In April this year, Google began to roll out its mobile-friendly update. This update was designed to give a boost to mobile-friendly pages in Google’s search results (and consequently, cause pages that are not mobile-friendly to drop).
The impact of “mobilegeddon” has been variable. This is no surprise – its effect will be largely determined by the competition. If for instance, your site isn’t mobile-friendly, but neither are any of your competitors’ pages, it makes sense that you’d see very little change in rankings or traffic (as a result of the update).
If, on the other hand, you’re one of the last adopters of mobile in your industry, the picture could be very different. Note the drop in mobile traffic seen by boxofficemojo.com:
That said, even if you’ve seen no real change in rankings or traffic to date, don’t assume your site is future proof. If you don’t already have a mobile-friendly site (and if you’re not sure whether your site is mobile-friendly you can find out here), start developing one ASAP.
Don’t forget about your blog when designing a mobile-friendly site either; you’re unlikely to see an ROI on your content marketing if people aren’t finding and consuming your content – something increasingly few people will do if your mobile UX sucks.
3. Remember the on-page basics
As mentioned above, on-page SEO is (at least) as important today as it’s ever been. However it’s not just something you need to consider when crafting category or product pages – it’s a fundamental factor in content optimization too.
Thankfully, if you know how to optimize a product or category page, you know how to optimize the content you use for marketing.
Title tags – Title tags form part of the <head> section of your HTML. They can help increase click-through-rates and are also used by search engines to establish the themes and content of a page.
If possible, your title tags should include a keyword or two – but only if it makes sense (never force it).
Standard practice for title tags for content marketing is to include the title of the content, followed by your brand name.
If you’ve followed SEO best practices and considered keywords and search user intent while crafting your content titles, including a keyword here should happen naturally.
Further reading: How to Write Title Tags for Search Engine Optimization
Meta descriptions – Another element of the <head> section, meta descriptions aren’t (we’re told) a ranking factor, which means that optimizing them is not, in the strictest sense, an SEO tactic. However, when we talk about on page optimization, meta descriptions will almost always come up.
While they won’t (again, we’re told) have a direct affect on your search presence, they do affect your click-through-rates. You can help to draw attention to your site (and content) in the search results by crafting the perfect meta description.
Further reading: How to Write an Effective Meta Description
H1 tag: Unsurprisingly, the H1 also sits inside the <head> of the page. In most cases, your H1 will simply be the title of your content (or if we were talking about a product or category page, the name of the category or product).
4. Optimize your images
As smart as Google is (pretty smart), its algorithms aren’t psychic. Google can’t understand the content of an image unless you explain it to them. Unfortunately, optimizing your images probably won’t help your content to rank better in the organic search results. It will, however, affect where your images appear in image search.
This means that correctly optimizing your images can help drive traffic to your site (and your content), making image optimization a critical element of SEO for content marketing. The key elements of optimizing your images for SEO are…
Image/file name: Use descriptive names for your image files. So, for an image of a red bull can, instead of something like 567314.jpg, name the image red-bull-can.jpg.
Alt tag: Most people know that alt tags are a crucial component of image optimization, yet a lot of people still use them incorrectly. Alt tags should not be the same as their file name, nor should they be a list of keywords.
The easiest way to envision how to write an alt tag is to think how you would describe the image to someone who couldn’t see it. For example, the alt tag for this image…
…might be “Sujan Patel looks happy and scared, shortly after jumping out of a plane” (FYI it’s 10% fear, 90% happiness!).
Title: The image title is what appears when someone hovers over an image. How much (if any) SEO benefit it has is up for debate, however, for the time it takes to assign an image a title, I’d encourage you to use it.
5. Promote your content for links
If anyone’s ever told you that links don’t matter anymore, please, for the love of SEO, ignore them (and any SEO “advice” they try to offer you in future).
Here’s the long and short of it: links do matter. Maybe not as much as they did ten years ago – as search algorithms advance, they gain more ways to ascertain the value and relevancy of a page. This tends to mean that search algorithms need to rely less on a site’s backlink profile. It doesn’t mean they ignore it entirely.
Sites with large, diverse backlink profiles, formed primarily of links from high-quality websites will be given more weight in the search results than sites that are lacking in the links department. This means that a strategy for building a backlink profile should form the backbone of any ongoing SEO campaign, and one way to do this, is with content.
How you use content to gain links depends on the nature of the content in question.
Imagery, such as infographics, or a series of pictures or illustrations, lend themselves naturally to outreach. This means pitching your content to bloggers or journalists that share similar interests to your own, and that you believe would have an interest in reproducing your content. You can read more about the perfect pitch here.
However, while text-based content doesn’t usually lend itself to reproduction on other sites (especially if you can’t guarantee those other sites will use a cross-domain canonical to credit you properly as the original author), there are other ways you can use it to gain links.
“Resource link-building” for example. This tends to entail adopting the same outreach strategy as above, but instead of trying to get your content reproduced, you’re trying to get it added to a “resources” page.
Another excellent way to gain links to text articles is with broken link-building, where you identify sites that have linked to content that’s very similar to yours, but that’s no longer live (resulting in a broken link). You then contact each site and offer your content as a replacement link. You can read more about broken link-building here.
6. Make the most of internal linking opportunities
Sometimes we can become so caught up in our mission to acquire external links, that we forget about a type of linking strategy that not only has SEO benefits, but that we also have complete control over – internal linking.
Just to ensure we’re clear on the difference between internal and external links – an external link connects your site with a different site. If I link to Kissmetrics here, that’s an external link. An internal link connects two pages of the same site, so if I link to my blog post on hacking your way into the press, that’s an internal link.
Internal links serve three primary purposes:
- Assist in site navigation and content discovery
- Help define your site hierarchy
- Help to spread authority throughout the site
There are a number of best practices to follow when it comes to internal linking, which you can read more about here. However, internal linking doesn’t tend to attract the same sort of attention and penalty risk as an external linking strategy. If you do what makes sense and feels natural, and don’t go overboard, you should be fine. For example, say you write a post about launching a new company, and in that post you mention how to get funding. If you previously wrote a post about how to get funding, then link to it. Simple.
The biggest mistake you could make with your internal linking is not to utilize it.
7. Use breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs are navigational links that are usually used to illustrate either the hierarchy of a site or the path taken to reach a particular page.
Breadcrumbs are useful because they can help users and search engines to find their way around a website. That said, breadcrumbs that are dynamically generated to show the precise path a visitor has taken to reach a page are generally ill-advised. They can be confusing to users, and if handled incorrectly can result in problems with duplicate content.
In most cases, breadcrumbs which simply illustrate the site’s hierarchy are your best option, but… don’t resign them exclusively to use within your “main” site. Breadcrumbs used within blogs and article sections can be a great way to encourage visitors to explore more of your content, and can help disperse link equity around the site too.
8. Don’t let unwanted content die
Not all content can be evergreen. Industries change, technology evolves, best practices come and go. Consequently over time, some content will become less relevant. So what should you do if some of your older content loses its value?
Well, you could take it down and replace it with a 404, or you could just leave it be. No one visits your dusty old archives anyway, right? Wrong.
One of my most popular posts is this one, which I published in June 2013. I would hazard a guess that some of your older posts are some of your most popular too.
This means that if (or when) those older posts begin to wilt, just leaving them to die is not only a huge waste of the time (and money) you initially spent on their creation, but more importantly, is a waste of the authority they’ve gained in that time. What’s more, if someone stumbles across a post you wrote in 2005, and doesn’t realize how out-of-date that post is, your dated advice reflects poorly on your brand.
- Update old posts, or if that’s not possible…
- Implement a 301 redirect to a similar post.
Either way, you’ll get the maximum possible value out of your old content, while still maintaining the SEO integrity of your site.
9. Be unique
It’s no secret that search engines favor original content – they want to serve the best possible results to the user, and ten pages of near identical content isn’t it.
However, often when we think about “duplicate content,” we think about ecommerce sites and their category and product pages. That makes sense. My experience has shown that duplicate content is a huge problem for ecommerce sites. If it’s not sites saving time by using their manufacturer’s descriptions instead of writing their own, it’s other sites copying their (previously) original content.
In many cases, rewriting this content to ensure it’s as original as possible will suffice (it’s understandable that a description for a product sold on 100 other sites can never be entirely original).
But, when it comes to content used for marketing, being a tiny bit different isn’t enough.
Now, you might argue that no idea is truly original. I’d agree with you. But I’m not saying you need to be a pioneer of your industry in order to create great content. You just need to be different enough to make your mark.
This could be the style and language you use or the way you approach topics. You might write articles that are longer and more detailed than your competitors, or you might differentiate yourself by simplifying and summarizing complicated subjects.
I’m not here to tell you how to be original, I just want to ensure you understand that simply mirroring your competition won’t suffice.
10. Avoid tag and archive duplication
While we’re on the topic of duplicate content, let’s talk about a problem many site owners run into when they first launch a blog or articles section: duplicating their own content via the use of tags and archives.
Blog tags and archives are generally pretty useful features. They help to organize your content and make it easier for users to navigate your back catalog. They can also result in a duplicate content problem.
Before I explain how to fix this, let’s make one thing clear: there is no such thing as a duplicate content “penalty”. Duplicate content simply makes it more difficult for search engines to understand which is the “best” version of a piece of content. This can mean that none of that content gets ranked quite as high-up as it would if it was canonicalized into a single, “master” version.
There are a number of ways to fix a duplicate content problem. Which one you should use depends on the context of the issue at hand. For instance, best practices for preventing duplicate content on blog tags and archives include using the meta robots “noindex, follow” tag. This instructs the search engines to crawl the links on the page, but also tells them not to index the tag or archive pages (meaning they won’t appear in the search results).
If you use WordPress, I’ve got good news for you: implementing noindex, follow couldn’t be easier.
Just get yourself the Yoast Plugin (if you haven’t got it already), and tick the “noindex, follow” box under “tags” and “format”.
If you don’t use WordPress, you may want to investigate what (if any) ways there are of automating robots tags on the CMS you do use.
Alternatively, you can just add <META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX,FOLLOW”> to the <head> section of any page that you don’t want to be indexed (in this case, your tag and archive pages).
11. Speed it up
In 2010, Google confirmed that they had made site speed into a ranking factor. This makes absolute sense. Google wants to serve the best results to its users, and no user wants to be served a site that takes too long to load. How long is too long? Not very. Research has demonstrated that 47% of visitors expect a page to load in less than two seconds.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights will tell you just how quickly your site is running, and show you how to make it run faster. Just don’t forget about your blog or articles section – slow load times in these areas might not have a direct impact on your sales, but can (and probably will) impact conversions elsewhere in the funnel.
12. Fix broken links
Broken links might seem like a small problem – especially if they’re populating your blog rather than a category or product page – but please don’t overlook them. They make for a poor user experience and, if left unattended, have the potential to impact your SEO too.
Thankfully, fixing broken links on a blog or articles page is really, really easy.
Once you’ve identified the links that need fixing, you can either:
- Update them (replace them with a working URL)
- Remove them
13. Place your content in a subfolder, not a subdomain
Subfolder (i.e. www.website.com/blog) vs. subdomain (i.e. blog.website.com) has been an ongoing bone of contention in the SEO industry. It’s long been thought that placing content on a subdomain will hurt your rankings, but here’s Matt Cutts implying that it doesn’t really matter: “they are roughly equivalent. I would basically go with whichever one is easier for you in terms of configuration, your CMSs, all that sort of stuff.”
And yet here’s Rand Fishkin stating that Moz were “recently able to test this using a subdomain on Moz itself (when moving our beginner’s guide to SEO from guides.moz.com to the current URL http://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo). The results were astounding – rankings rose dramatically across the board for every keyword we tracked to the pages.”
He goes on to say, “we still don’t believe them [Google] and have overwhelming evidence that Google doesn’t consistently treat all pages on multiple subdomains the same way they do URLs on the same subdomain. They’ve said for years that it doesn’t matter, but the evidence and data are clear.”
Still not sure who to believe? Contemplate this: even if Google is telling the truth, you won’t lose anything by erring on the side of caution and placing your content in a subfolder, just in case.
14. Utilize your 404 page
A 404 page can make or break your user experience. If it’s useful and entertaining, the 404 page has the potential to retain a visitor that otherwise would have bounced.
Rather than this:
However, you can also leverage your 404 page for content marketing, by including links to some of your latest, or most popular posts, or to your content categories. Something like this:
15. Remember that the goalposts are always changing
This isn’t a best practice as such; it’s more of a reminder that Google’s guidelines and SEO best practices do change. Just because something works today, doesn’t mean it will work in six months or a year.
What you need to do is ensure you don’t get left behind. Make sure you’re subscribed to the industry’s biggest blogs and are following the top names in SEO on Twitter. If it helps you keep on top of things, use an RSS feeder like Feedly or Inoreader.
Most importantly of all however, when a change is announced, don’t just sit idly by and assume it won’t affect you. Listen to what’s happening and how the industry is responding before using this information to implement changes to your own content marketing and SEO processes.
That’s it from me for now – do you have any other tips or strategies for incorporating SEO best practices into your content marketing? Let me know by leaving a comment below: