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Should you be worried about SEO on your content marketing blog?
In recent months, the necessity of search engine optimization has come under major fire. As Google released their Panda and Penguin algorithms we all saw a major reduction in search spam, and an almost overnight, we began noticing major changes in the type of content we saw in our own search results.
Long time SEO Jill Whalen, is now “internet famous” for quitting her career as an SEO following these major announcements. “Google works now” said Jill, “this means, my friends, that my work here is done.”
What does she mean? Is SEO really dead?
As is often the case, nothing is really dead. SEO has changed, dramatically, and as Jill points out, this is a good thing. The good news for content creators like you is that it has changed in your favor. Google now rewards content marketing over spam bots and link-building tricks. It’s a victory for good content and a loss for tactics of questionable nature.
This is a good thing.
You may be wondering why you still need to consider SEO in your writing with all of the changes that have been made by Google. The answer is relatively simple: For a long time, SEO was all about tricks and tactics. It was truly about optimization and opportunism, but not anymore. Now, SEO is about content. Lots of content.
In other words, SEO as we know it picked up camp and moved in with content marketing. We have a new roommate. Why not get to know it a little?
From what I can see, the opportunity for content marketers to use SEO-driven tactics is more applicable now than ever. We already have the content. What if we add a little science and tactic to our work–who knows where we might go in the future? We could even put ourselves on page one of search. Wouldn’t that be something?
How should the content marketer be approaching the search engines with our writing? This guide aims to answer these two questions. SEO may not be dead, but it has dramatically changed and that means there is a big opportunity for the content marketer who is paying attention.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to what you need to do to have a modern SEO-driven approach to content marketing.
When outlining an SEO strategy for content marketing, we take a slightly different approach than what we were used to. It is probably best to begin understanding how (and why) Google is rewarding longer-form content and other content that is visually focused. Google has started to see these elements as symbols of quality, and is doing a better job of connecting search users to quality content.
Again, that’s a good thing, but it doesn’t mean that some of the tried and true techniques of old SEO aren’t still viable. That’s where keywords come in.
One of the most important aspects of search engine optimization has always been the keywords, those words that people use to find our content in search.
In the early days of SEO, the goal was to achieve exact keyword matching. This meant that the page we wanted people to find was perfectly tuned to show up in the search results when someone searched for that phrase. If you searched for “exact keyword match,” for example, you would find pages that used that phrase exactly as written. Not anymore. Now, you will find pages that discuss the general topic of exact keyword matching.
It may be subtle, but it is an important difference. Rand Fishkin of Moz explains it well in his whiteboard friday video.
All of that said, though, I still believe that most good SEO optimization still begin with the keyword. This hasn’t changed.
What’s changed is the framework we need to use for implementing those keywords into our writing. This is the method that I am going to break down for you in the guide. I am going to show you, step by step, how to use keywords to create an SEO driven approach to content marketing. Try not to think of it as SEO so much as smart content marketing.
The first step is to find the keywords that matter most for you. There are several tools that will help you do this. The most notable is the Google Adwords Keyword Planner, a tool that is freely available with any Adwords account.
The concept here is very simple. Start by typing in one of the keywords that is most crucial to your business. Here at CoSchedule, for example, this would be something like ‘content marketing’ or ‘editorial calendars’. From there, Google will automatically provide you with a list of words related to your primary keyword that people all around the world are searching for.
As a content marketer, this is incredibly valuable! Not only do you get a host of keyword ideas, but you should also begin to understand your readers more than ever. This is what they are searching for. How cool is that?
Once you have a list of results from Google, you can individually add keywords that stand out to you to your keyword plan.
Avoid getting get overly aggressive, though. For example, in this screenshot I probably don’t need to add both “content marketing strategy” and “content marketing strategies.” They are a bit redundant, and not likely different enough for me to care about. Since “content marketing strategy” gets more attention, it would make sense to go with that.
Your goal here is to create a lost of 30-100 keywords that matter to your business, your audience, and to Google. You are doing research here, so the most important thing is that you learn what your audience wants, and what Google will reward.
Once you’ve created a good list, use the export option to download it as an Excel file, or whatever format you want to work with.
The list of keywords you built using the keyword planner is your new content marketing checklist. These are the words that you want your site to “rank” well for on Google. I consider them a list of keyword goals to shoot for.
The next step is to load these goals into a tool that will help your track and monitor where you site ranks for each of these terms. For this, I like to use Positionly, but larger SEO tools like Moz and RavenTools are good options as well. For me, Positionly offers a simplicity that the others don’t. It does less, but sometimes that is more.
The purpose of Positionly is very simple. They aim to monitor daily changes to your search engine rankings and help improve where you show up in search engine listings. In other words, they will tell you where your site ranks on Google in respect to each keyword term that you add for your site.
This is valuable information because it gives you a benchmark to work against. When you upload your initial list of terms, Positionly will give you an overall assessment of your site in comparison to your selected terms. Depending on how long you have been writing or working on SEO, your results may vary.
One of the hazards of a tools like Positionly is the frequency of information. On any given day you may log in to find that your rankings on several keywords have dropped for no particular reason. This is a natural occurrence, and not something that you should worry about too deeply. Ranking well on Google is an art, not a science. It is also a process, so don’t expect to land on top and stay there forever. ;)
Once you have your marching orders (keyword goals), it is time to start incorporating them into your content marketing process.
At CoSchedule, our goal is to focus on one keyword phrase each week by adding a blog post with that keyword phrase to our editorial calendar. We don’t get overly scientific about it, we just plop it on there are and leave things up to the designated writer to figure out.
Once the post is on the calendar, it will get written. If you aren’t managing an editorial calendar for your team, this is an excellent reason to do so, and one that we heartily recommend. When you pre-plan your content you can become much more purposeful and strategic with you goals.
Once you’ve worked through your keyword goals list the first time, be sure to refer back to Positionly regularly to help prioritize the keywords that you want (and need) to improve on.
It is worth mentioning at this point that you should never be writing a blog post where a specific keyword isn’t identified.
On our team, we try as often as possible to identify the keyword immediately when scheduling a post. Each time we create a post, we either identify the keyword in the headline itself, or note it in the comments field if we are choosing to write the headline later on.
This is a good practice to get your team into, and will make a big impact on the quality of your posts. Not only will it add SEO value, but it will force your writing team to focus their writing on a well-selected and focused topic.
If you are having trouble identifying your keywords for one-off posts, there are two easy places you can go. First, you could always head back over to the Google Adwords Keyword Planning tool, but that might be overkill at this point. What I like to do is simply complete a basic Google search and take a look at the recommended search terms at the bottom of the page.
Another way to do this research is to use an content creation tool like Scribe by Copyblogger.
This tool allows you to do headline research right inside of your WordPress add/edit page, and provides additional details about the popularity and competition level of each keyword option. It will also provide data regarding your keywords from both Twitter and Google+.
Once you have a keyword selected for you post, you will need a few tools to ensure that your content stays on point. The two tools that we use here at CoSchedule are the Scribe plugin by Copyblogger and WordPress SEO from Yoast. If you are on a budget the Yoast plugin is free, and will get you 90% of the way to where you need to go.
Both of these plugins work in a similar way. With each, you start by declaring the keyword phrase that you are using for the post. From there, the plugins will tell you how well you content ranks for those keywords. These plugins will evaluate your post based on several key factors:
It is considered best practice to include your exact keyword phrase in the headline of your post.
The page title is the bit of text that will show up in your browser tab, or more importantly, at the top of your Google Search listing. You will definitely want to include your keyword in full here.
Your keyword should be included in the slug of your URL. WordPress makes this easy to customize as long as you do it before the post is published.
Both Yoast and Scribe will want to see that the keyword is mentioned within the content of your post. With this, the more you have the better. If you can include the keywords in various sub-headlines you will even get bonus points.
The meta description is the short description of your post that will show up on Google. You will want to use your keyword phrase in this copy.
When writing your posts, you want to make sure they are as optimized as possible for the keywords that you are trying to reach. Both Scribe and Yoast will give your visual confirmation of your success.
At our office, we always shoot for green before we publish every post. Clicking though both plugins will provide additional information and suggestions.
Topics vs. Strict Match
One thing that I want to point out is that you need to be careful about the difference between the strict matching of keywords and topic related search.
As Rand Fishkin pointed out the video posted above, Google cares more about how you cover the topic overall rather than the exact keyword itself. Yoast tends to lean to heavily on the strict match method, which is outdated by Google’s standards. Scribe, however, seems to handle this much more gracefully and might be worth the extra investment.
Even though SEO is no longer about the tools and tricks, there are still a few you need to use to make sure that everything is in order. As any good web designer will tell you, most SEO happens in the page itself. If the structure and makeup of your webpage isn’t properly optimized, you are already fighting an uphill battle.
Here are a few additional WordPress plugins that will help you get things in order:
WordPress SEO by Yoast
WordPress SEO is a powerful plugin. Use it to setup sitemaps on your site, and optimize your social sharing meta tags. Seriously, spend some time with this one.
Site speed can make a huge impact on your SEO performance. WP Rocket is a paid plugin, but unlike many of the free options, it shouldn’t mess up your site. It is worth the few extra bucks.
In Depth Articles Generator
Generates posts metadata for your pages to better present search results to users. There are other plugins that do this, but this one is simple and easy. If you need to validate that it is working, you can use the Google testing tool.
Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
This free guide made available by Google is a great place to start in the world of SEO an optimization.
SEO isn’t dead, it has just changed. The good news is that the new world of SEO is better than ever for content marketers like yourself. When combined with a few SEO basics, there is nothing stopping you from making SEO a core part of your inbound marketing strategy.
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