Take a moment, think back to your longest friendship — when did you meet? Was it recess? Or a tad later in the middle school cafeteria?
We all have that friend who has taken a different path since the playground, but you still smile when you think back on their friendship. Those early days, when you were inseparable — you went on many great adventures, defeated dragons, and scored goals. That friend, you could call up now and ask to stand in your wedding, even though you don’t see each other as often as you would like.
That friend was there from the start. Those roots are what made your friendship strong. They are what made it so effective. Your lives have always been integrated.
That friendship is exactly the type of friendship your SEO and content marketing needs to have — inseparable from the start.
With each piece of content you create, the rules can change just a bit. But the steps you need to take to effectively combine your SEO and content marketing efforts and see the greatest results, are not to be kept a secret. Here’s where to start:
Step 1: Have a topic in mind
Many creative types start out with a full idea in mind. They’re ready to tell the world’s greatest story. They are painting a masterpiece.
The problem? The full idea they’ve already thought through hasn’t been optimized, at all, for the search engines.
So they’re forced to either — a.) abandon SEO all together for this *masterpiece* and pray someone reads it and is able to force it viral for them, or b.) consider every avenue possible after drafting to get a relevant, optimized, worthwhile keyword into the piece.
Not the greatest approach.
Instead, start with just a topic in mind — ex. Employee engagement. Begin researching on the web, on sites like BuzzSumo, on popular sites you know your audience currently reads, even on competitors’ blogs.
You want to go into a discovery-mode looking for inspiration.
Think of it like when you meet a new person. You start with the basics — who are you, how are you, what can I do for you? In service industries, the first two are skipped and we jump straight to ‘what can I do for you?’
In reality, though, you’re looking to build a relationship through your content. So you need to know ‘who’ they are. And to fully understand the ‘who,’ you need to know what they need/want and care about right now.
To guide this, ask yourself these questions:
- What are people saying about this topic?
- What can you bring to the conversation that’s different?
- What are your unique experiences?
- What are your customers’ unique experiences?
Step 2: Conduct SEO keyword research
After step one, you still don’t have a fully-ready idea to begin creating content. To get to that point, you need to switch over to the SEO tool of your choice. (If you don’t have one yet, there are plenty available with both free and paid options. Some to check out: Google Keyword Planner, SpyFu, Moz, SEMRUSH, KWFinder)
You may have discovered ‘benefits that impact high employee engagement’ is a great topic for your audience and you have something unique and valuable to say. But this long tail phrase may not be the best option to optimize for.
Start with looking at the search volume. If 0-10 people are searching for it a month, is the ROI there to create the content?
The answer for everyone can actually greatly differ.
On the one hand, if you can convert 10 people a month because that one piece of content is that good… the answer, for many, is yes!
On the other hand, if that few people are searching for it — and it’s an early part of the buyer’s journey — is that one piece of content going to move the needle enough? Probably not.
Alternatively, if 500,000+ are searching it, is it worth it?
If the search volume is super high, your site is not yet a higher domain authority, and you’ve never touched anything in the ballpark of this keyword… you’re going to need more than one piece of content to rank for this keyword.
So the question becomes, is the topic something worth building into a broader strategy? Perhaps using a keyphrase like ‘employee engagement’ as a pillar page and then a single article on ‘benefits that impact high employee engagement’ could actually work far better.
You can only decide this, however, if you start with the SEO keyword research.
You could very well write the content without doing this step, but it’s a bit like the age-old adage: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If you’re writing content just to write it, and not ensuring your audience actually cares or optimizing it so they can find it, does it really matter?
I reckon not.
Step 3: Focus on your discovery
So now that you have the topic research and the keyword research in place, you need to look at your current audience’s pain points and trends.
For this step you need to tap into your Google Analytics account. See how people are discovering your content already. Are they visiting your blog, your website landing pages, videos you’ve created, etc.?
The idea you’re getting close to putting to pen might work better as a video than as a blog article. You won’t know unless you check out their journey, where they’re getting to you from, and what they find most helpful.
To write about a topic just because it’s fitting for your audience ‘in general’ is not enough. If it’s timely but it’s not in the right content form (blog, article, page, social media image, etc.) it becomes just a filler piece of content and not something that’s going to be impactful to your SEO and marketing strategy.
Now, it seems you’re ready to formulate your full idea, with the SEO in place so your content marketing efforts see the greatest success.
But, there’s one more thing…
Additional Step: Build out a strategy
If you’re new to using SEO in the content marketing strategy, this step is one that needs to be revisited over and over. Full SEO keyword research — research that’s looking at everything fitting to your audience and you — needs to be conducted on a ‘regular’ basis.
For some, this is monthly or quarterly — some slower-moving industries, every six months to a year will work fine.
This research needs to note where you currently rank in the results for each phrase. What the difficulty of ranking is. Where the needle has shifted in your ranking from the last set of research. The difficulty. The local/regional search volume (if fitting). The cost-per-click. Where your competitors are ranking on relevant keywords. Etc. All of the ‘things’ that are available in the SEO keyword research tool you’re using. (Note: sometimes you need to use more than one to get everything you need to monitor.)
Once you have this information, build out a strategy around the keywords that have a great area of opportunity for you.
For example, you might determine ‘employee engagement’ is something you want to improve on. You’re currently on page one, but the 8th result. So you can build out content on external sites (guest blogging), conduct research to feature as a report (landing page) and in various pieces of content (blog articles, feature articles on guest outlets, webinars, and a video series).
That strategy may take 3 months to implement. But it has the research fully conducted for that quarter and is one you can build out each individual piece of content around.
But, do bear in mind — for each piece of content you need to start at step one and research the specific topic, keywords, and trends that are happening ‘now.’
Overall, you need to deliberately draft content around the best ranking keywords rather than force the SEO into the content marketing strategy.