One of the greatest benefits of content marketing is its ability to play matchmaker: to help eligible businesses find and engage with its most desirable consumers – i.e., those who might have an active interest in what they have to offer. And because it is such a powerful driver of awareness, search is one of the main contributing factors to how successful your content will be at attracting those qualified leads.
While it’s not always fully transparent how or when Google’s search bots will crawl and index your content – let alone exactly how its search algorithm determines its rankings –content marketers don’t have to just sit back and wait for Google to pass judgment on whether their work merits a first-page listing on the search engine results page (SERP). In fact, you can take plenty of deliberate SEO actions to boost your content’s value in the eyes of your target audience – if you have the right strategies in place.
At CMI’s ContentTech virtual conference, Orbit Media co-founder Andy Crestodina and Act-On’s Senior Marketing Manager Noelle Mahoney took to the (digital) stage to offer some top tips, tools, and techniques for working the systems of search to your content’s best advantage. Below are just a few of the helpful insights and recommendations they shared.
Look for question marks in the queries
As Andy asserts, each visitor your content receives through search has an intention in mind; the searcher took the initiative to actively look for something. To find it, one of three main types of key phrases was used:
- Navigational: Phrases that help the searchers find the best path to a specific brand or experience they already identified
- Transactional: Phrases that indicate they are looking to make a purchase of some kind – either immediately or in the future
- Informational: Phrases that signal that they have questions and are looking for answers on a particular subject
As Andy explains, content marketers’ greatest SEO potential lies in optimizing pages to rank better for informational key phrases, as these searchers aren’t necessarily looking to achieve a quick task (like finding a brand’s page or purchasing an item right then and there) and move on. Thus, they are more likely to enter your sales funnel and become viable leads upon discovering the value you offer.
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How do you go about making your content pages more relevant to informational searches on your target keywords? The first step is to have a basic understanding of the mechanics of SEO, which means getting into the mind of its top judge, jury, and executioner: Google.
What makes a site relevant to Google? While its algorithm is said to account for a wide range of inputs and data points, Andy considers inbound links to your website to be one of the most critical ranking factors:
- Quantity of links: On some level, Google judges the number of backlinks your content has received as if each one is a vote in a popular election: the more you have, the more credible and worthy your content appears to be, thus, the greater its potential to deliver the value that visitors are looking for. (Thankfully, Google hasn’t yet implemented an electoral college-like system, or nobody would have a clue what to expect from their SERPs.)
- Quality of links: While quantity does play a role, it’s the quality of those links that truly impacts your content’s ability to move up (or down) in the search rankings for relevant informational key phrases. In other words, you don’t just need SEO to bring more links to your domain, you need it to attract links from credible, authoritative pages that already earned the respect of Google’s rank-bots.
Remember, search is a game of competition: For every spot you want to move up in the rankings, someone above you needs to be displaced. With this in mind, Andy and Noelle focused on ways to attract those all-important links by making your content more visible, valuable, and appealing than its SERP competitors – both in the eyes of Google and the consumers who rely on it.
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Clocking your keyword competition
To discover the best place to start your optimization efforts, you must first understand two key factors that affect your potential rankings. The first is your level of authority. This metric provides an estimate of how likely you are to rank for a term, based on how credible your website might seem in the eyes of a search engine.
Google used to tell us what the authority of our website pages was, using a metric called PageRank. Though this metric is no longer reported by Google directly, other companies have created proxies that we can use to gauge our content’s ranking strength for a given key phrase. Domain Authority is one such proxy metric created by Moz.
To determine your Domain Authority, you’ll need Moz’s Open Site Explorer (which anyone can access on a limited basis for free). Open Site Explorer measures a site’s Domain Authority on a scale from 1 to 100, based on both the quality and the quantity of links pointing to that site.
Using a plug-in called MozBar, you can see an overlay of all the Open Site Explorer data for every site that ranks for your target phrase, showing you the relative competition for that phrase. For example, if you want to rank for a phrase like “website design,” your Domain Authority must be in the same range as other sites already ranking well for it.
The second factor to take into account is difficulty – essentially, the average authority of all the high-ranking pages for your target word or phrase.
If you have a paid Moz account, you can view this information in a report like the one below (you can also estimate it by comparing the authority of the high-ranking pages using MozBar). After inputting a target key phrase (Andy used “Chicago bars” in his example), you can look to see whether your Domain Authority is higher than the keyword difficulty. If the answer is yes, you should have a decent chance of ranking for the phrase – assuming you have created an awesome page on the topic, and have done a good job of using SEO to indicate your relevance (more on that in a minute). If not, you might want to keep digging to find alternate phrases that give you a better shot at SERP domination.
TIP: Don’t be too concerned with the specific amount of search volume a key phrase receives. As Andy explains, you are simply looking for solid evidence that people are interested in the topic since each page is just one of many you will create over the life span of your website.
Relevance, resonance, and relative rankings
Finding the phrases that people are searching for, and that your content has a good shot at competing on, will get your SEO efforts moving in the right direction. But, there are other things you can do to help Google’s search bots surface your content as being relevant to searchers’ queries. Remember, there is a limited number of slots on the SERP for organic rankings (since much of the page can be taken up with ads, promoted listings, images, and more – especially if your target keyword is highly competitive). You need to make your attack on several fronts all at once.
This is where an on-site SEO strategy comes into play.
The first (and most obvious) step for doing this is to make sure your key phrases appear in the right places within your content, so that Google can correctly index and gauge its relevance.
For this, Noelle suggests including your term in the five critical areas Google weighs most heavily when it comes to determining how to rank a site page:
- Page title
- Body copy
- Meta descriptions
- Page URL
But remember: Simply including the right key phrases in the right places won’t be enough to knock your SERP competition off its perch; it’s just table stakes. It’s also critical to ensure that when people search for your target phrase and find your content, they will be satisfied with what they discover. This is where having lots of high-quality authoritative content on your site can put you at a distinct advantage.
Semantic SEO: One approach Andy suggests here is to boost your relevance for the broader topic your key phrase relates to – not just the phrase itself. In other words, you need to work with terms that are semantically related (i.e., related in meaning) to your target key phrase.
For instance, if you type a question word (e.g., what, where, how, etc.) plus your key phrase into a Google search bar, Google Suggest will list a number of likely queries in the order of their relative popularity. Keywordtool.io and Google Trends are two other tools Andy recommends. (Maggie Barr also recently shared eight additional tools to find related keywords for your content.)
When you uncover highly popular supporting phrases relevant to your core business, you should incorporate them into your existing content, where appropriate. But you can also consider building new content pieces to directly target the most popular related terms.
Selecting content topics this way hits on the SEO essentials: People are searching for it and it’s semantically related to your original key phrase. These pieces are likely to help raise your overall relevance. In addition, by narrowing the focus of your original target phrase, posts on semantically related topics will be less competitive and more context-specific, giving you a stronger chance of ranking for those terms.
Another option is to combine several semantically related phrases and use them in a new post to target your original key phrase. For example, if your key phrase is “website footer,” your keyword research process will reveal dozens of related phrases, like “website footer text” and “website footer design best practices.” The more of these phrases you can incorporate in a relevant way, the longer, more thorough, and more context-specific your new content piece will be – helping you increase your relevance on the topic in the eyes of the search bots.
Incidentally, Andy also shared a web content template that can help you develop these content pieces. You can download your own copy of the template here.
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Please note: All tools included in this blog post were suggested by the Content Tech presenters, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
Learn more from Andy Crestodina by reading How to Apply Analytics Data to Make Better Content Marketing Decisions or by joining him and many other speakers at Content Marketing World Sept. 5-8 in Cleveland, Ohio. Use code BLOG100 to save $100 on registration.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute