How to Optimize Your Content to Rank Well With Stephen Jeske from Can I Rank?

It’s time to optimize your content so you can rank well in search engines!

When you write a new blog or add new content to your website, you want to guide your audience to your brand new material. You may have some great content, but great content does not guarantee high traffic, and that’s when you can start adding keywords and search terms to optimize your web content.

Today we’re talking to Stephen Jenske from CanIRank.com. He is an SEO mastermind, and his strategies for search engine optimization are going to transform the way you create content for your website.

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Some of the highlights from this show include:

  • The ways CanIRank.com uses algorithms to find the best keywords for you and your brand that will really optimize your search engine ranking
  • Understanding search intent and how you can match your content with your desired audience and shopper
  • How to choose the best keywords that will work realistically to help your content rank high and outrank the competition
  • All the things that go into your content ranking, including page strength and page external relevancy
  • How to build page external relevancy by building relationships with companies and clients you like to reference in your content
  • Step-by-step breakdown of Stephen’s writing process to help you plan, create, optimize, and promote your online content
  • Finding a way to automate the tedious stuff so you can spend your time creating content and connecting with clients

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Transcript:

Nathan: Your audience has a question. How do so many of them find that answer? They use a search engine. Optimizing your content to rank well helps your audience find your business. The question becomes, how can you do it?

Stephen Jeske is the Senior Content Strategist at CanIRank. That’s a search engine optimization tool. Stephen has tons of experience optimizing content to rank well in search engines. That is one of the best ways to help your audience find what you’re publishing online.

Stephen is on the Actionable Marketing Podcast to share how you can find keywords you can realistically rank for. You’re going to learn how to outrank your competition to be among those top search results. You’re going to learn how Stephen plans, creates, and promotes his content at CanIRank.

I’m Nathan from CoSchedule and I’m pumped for you to learn all about ranking well in search engines with Stephen so let’s check this out.

Alright Stephen, thank you so much for being on podcast today.

Stephen: You’re welcome, Nathan. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Nathan: It’s a pleasure to be talking with you. I was wondering, just to kick us off, what’s CanIRank and what do you do there?

Stephen: CanIRank is an advanced machine learning algorithm that analyses your website and those of your competitors to find keywords that you can rank for, links you can get on-page optimizations, and those sorts of things that will really make a big difference to your online presence. We actually collect hundreds of data points from a lot of your favorite SEO tools like Moz, SEMrush, and Ahrefs. We turn that information into actionable advice that you can use.

My role at CanIRank is a Senior Content Strategist. That means I spend most of my time trying to figure out the best content for us to create, then help create it and promote it.

Nathan: All of that makes a lot of sense. You must be an SEO mastermind. I was just wondering, just the very basics, why is search engine optimization important?

Stephen:   Here’s the thing, it really is important to have great content, there’s no doubt about it. Unfortunately, in our day and age, a great piece of content won’t guarantee that you rank well in search engine results.

It really is important to have great content, there's no doubt about that.

If you’re looking for traffic from search engines, then you want to take that piece of content and tweak it after publication to ensure that search engines properly understand its significance because unfortunately the reality is that search engines just aren’t that smart.

Nathan: Let’s talk a little bit about optimizing our content. Let’s start by search intent. Could you explain what search intent is and why it’s important?

Stephen: Sure. It is really important because if you think of the customer journey, not everyone is ready to buy as much as we would like them to be. They use different keywords depending on where they are in their journey. What you want to do is you want to match your content to where they’re at in their journey.

I can give you a great example. The other week, I was looking at buying some Bluetooth earbuds. I was looking at evaluating my options and I did a search on best Bluetooth earbuds 2017, that was my search. At that point, I’m using that because I’m in the market, I’m ready to buy ear buds, I’m ready to buy, specifically Bluetooth. I don’t want to come across a piece of content telling me how great Bluetooth is and I should buy Bluetooth earbuds, I already know that. You can tell that based on my keyword search. As a buyer at this point in my journey, I’m just looking for information to help me determine the best one.

Nathan: You can definitely use that information to understand what content to write, right?

Stephen: Exactly, that’s the whole purpose.

Nathan: Okay. I imagine that the SEO industry, the one that you’re in, has a lot of competition for keywords. I was wondering, how do you choose the keywords that you will realistically rank for with your content?

Stephen: There are so many industries out there that are super competitive. We’re not the only one in this situation but I’ll tell you what I do. When I’m looking at content, I first look at what type of content I want to create. I’m looking at whether or not I wanted to create high value content which other people may want to link to. Typically, that’s going to be really involved content based on lab research and data driven.

The other content that I’m also looking at is that that can help support the aims of our blog. I might be looking to a cheap conversions, or just get some direct search rankings, or maybe boost website relevancy. I think the important thing to remember too, it’s not all about traffic because at least from my experience and our clients as well, you can come across some very valuable keywords that often have little traffic but convert very well.

Typically what I do use, because I work at CanIRank, is I use our tool to evaluate the likelihood of actually ranking. I’ll give our app a keyword and I’ll compare our site to the first page entries in Google in terms of page relevancy, website relevancy, page external relevancy, site external relevancy, page strength, and web strength.

Nathan: Alright. Let’s just say that we’ve found these keywords, things that we think that we can rank for, how do you actually optimize your content then to outrank that competition of yours?

Stephen: I’ll give you a great example here. A little while ago, you republished a piece on your CoSchedule blog called The Complete 16-Step Marketing Project Management Process That Will Get You Organized. I thought this would be a great example so use CanIRank and I processed that page to see that page in comparison to the others that are ranking for the particular keyword that I assumed you’d be wanting to rank for, which would be marketing project management. If I was there working for you guys, I’d be looking for my weak spots in that page in terms of getting it to rank and focusing on what will give me the highest ROI.

There are a lot of things that you can do both on-page and off-page. For most people, it’s the on-page stuff that’s best to start with because it’s totally in your control and there’s a lot of things you can tweak. I’m talking about whether or not your page is using your target keyword or those variations and related terms and key places like titles, body content, headers, image text, but that’s not always the case. In this particular instance with your post, your page relevancy is pretty good. It’s 71 out of 100. The range of other people that are ranking on the first page is between 60 and 87. What that says is that you’re very good at using your target keyword.

Same thing with the website relevancy which is really looking at how many pages are focused around the same topic, you’re doing pretty good in there. You’re at 32 out of 100. Whereas most pages on the first page of Google, and the search results there around 26 to 56, so that’s fine too. Same thing with your page strength, which looks at external and internal links to its page, you’re at 42 in a range of 26 to 77. Same thing with the site external relevancy which looks at other websites and how frequently their linking to your website using anchor text related to that particular keyword, you’re doing at 40, which is pretty good concerning that most is doing about 33 to 71 out of 100.

The real point here, if I was to work to optimize in this particular page to rank well, I’d be looking at the page external relevancy. That’s looking at the quality websites their linking to, this particular page using anchor text related to the keyword. Whereas all those pages that you’re competing against on the front page of Google are ranging from 27 to 94, you’re at 23. That tells me that that’s where the work is needed, so that’s where I would focus.

Nathan: Nice. You mention a couple of different points there for me to focus on. I was wondering if I could pick those apart just a little bit. Yeah, you mentioned finding those related terms. How would you recommend for me to find related terms for a piece like this?

Stephen: For me, it’s pretty easy to do. I just look at the CanIRank, our app actually analyses that. That actually pulls us up a whole bunch of different related terms that we could use.

For example, you might want to add in something like project management for marketing. You don’t actually use that in your piece so that might help. That’s a related term, it’s just closely related term. Marketing and project management might be another one you use.

That’s how we quickly pull up some other related terms that we can use in terms of ranking very well on that. Also, we’re also interested in how do other people use that as well. For example, project management, that’s something that you use a fair amount of. You use about 25 instances of that particular word, which is great because the average among all those people that are ranking well is about 22.8 so you’re kind of fitting in well. We also look at that.

Nathan: I really like that, actually. Just looking at the terms that other pieces that you’re competing against are using, making you sure you have that latent semantic indexing in there, that’s really smart.

Stephen: Yes. When it comes down to it, everything is relative. You’re only really competing against the entries around the first page for that keyword. That’s what you want to concern yourself about, nevermind all the generalities about SEO, they don’t help you.

Quote from Can I Rank's Stephen Jeske

Nathan: Yeah, definitely. Stephen, one other point that you gave me a tip on just now was thinking of those links coming back to my content. What are some tips that you might have for generating more backlinks for my blog post?

Stephen: There are a few things you can do. One of the things that you should do and I’ve done this, for most, the important piece of content that we do is in addition to linking out to relevant and high quality sites, I take the time to actually reach out to these people. I don’t just tag them on social media but I take the time to email them. Specifically, at least in our industry, people don’t want to be emailed just to be told, “Hey, I mentioned you in my piece. Can you share it?” Everybody does that so I avoid that thing when I’m reaching out.

Just like when I was reaching out to you the other day, last couple of weeks ago. I created some sort of bond, especially it’s easy when we’re actually using somebody else’s piece of software and we can relate. The whole point is relating to them on a personal level, because people are really tired of the form letters. No matter how well they’re done, you can spot a form letter a mile away after you’ve been in the business for a while. I think that’s the number one thing.

The other thing too is I take advantage – I think we’ll talk about this hopefully later on – I take a lot of advantage of automation to help with taking care of the simple stuff so that I have extra time available to do the outreach and to keep it real because you can’t scale outreach.

Nathan: You have a really good example, actually, because you reached out to me, we started talking, and then I invited you to be on this podcast today. That started with one simple email from you.

Stephen: That’s right. That was not a form email. I could never do that. If I recall in my email, I was just talking about how I’ve used CoSchedule for a long time and how is using the headline analyser—in my particular post I was relating it to creating an SEO side low and I was saying, “Hey, this is how you can do it using Trello and at the same time I’m using CoSchedule headline analyser to come up with my headlines for my post, right upfront.” When I wrote you, I could reach out and talk to you all about this because this is stuff that I do all the time, so it was very natural for me to do it.

Nathan: I really love that example. Stephen, just to tie this altogether too, you mention that you’re writing blog post. I want to talk about connecting the dots between the keywords that we found, some of those related keywords that we found too. Walk me through the process of how you find ideas in general for your blog content.

Stephen: Nathan, I like to plan my content calendar ahead of time, ideally for the next quarter because it’s just makes everything less stressful. I find the research is easier too because when you know ahead the content you’re going to be producing, you can actually add to your research file as you go about your day to day work.

As I go about my routine, I add ideas to a Trello board and then we’ll periodically review those to flesh out their potential using what we call the FBD process which is, is our content going to be the first on the topic? If not, is there a way that we can make it better or different?

In Mark Schaefer’s world of Content Shock, nowadays this is really important, you got to make your content somehow it’s either going to be the first, the best, or better, or different.

Nathan: I really love that idea, first, better, or different. We can definitely see that happen with the CanIRank blog. I was wondering if you could give me the step by step breakdown of how you write that incredible content.

Stephen: First thing I do is I’m researching. One tool that I love using right now is Airstory. I use that both actually as a research tool because I clip stuff as I go along when I’m in my research mode. I also use it for writing and that’s what nice about that tool. I combine my research and writing in one tool. That’s actually a one process there. One is research, the other is writing, and then the third is the editing process. I keep those all separate. When it comes time to edit, my post is finished. I’m using Grammarly, I’m using Hemingway, another editor during my editing process.

Only after it’s published do I think about actually tweaking it to help search engines understand my post better because I like to write for humans first and search engines second. I find, for me personally, it’s just better to separate these in the different buckets as I go along.

Only after I've published do I think about actually tweaking it so search engines can understand ...

Nathan: I think that’s an incredibly interesting topic, to publish your blog post first and then optimize it. Could you walk me through why you do that?

Stephen: Okay. Here’s the thing, search engines are different from people. Sometimes, you can rank for best for term that you never even considered when you originally wrote the post. To give you an example, back last year before the election, we had written a piece. We had done some research on search engine bias and it got picked up by Wall Street Journal. It was wonderful. We started getting a lot of traffic to it. Interestingly enough, the search term that people use isn’t search engine bias, and that’s actually what’s in our title, all about search engine bias. What they’re searching for is conservative search engine. That’s the keyword that’s actually getting us all this traffic.

Typically, I’ll run a report looking at my post versus the page on results. I’m going to consider adding related terms like the target keyword variation and looking for key places like titles, the body content, the headers, the image alt text, etc. I’m also looking at how often I’m using the important keyword terms versus the competition. There are certain terms the competition is using, I want to make sure that I’m using them as well.

I also look for opportunities to link to this new content from the older content. A lot of people, when they’re writing a post, they’ll do internal linking just by using WordPress. Typically, they’ll look what older content they have and they’ll link to it from the newer content. That’s fine when you’re in the process of doing your writing. Later on, it helps too in terms of search engine optimization to go back to some of your older content and link to that new post.

Nathan: I love that last idea by the way. It makes a lot of sense. If you have an older piece that gets tons of traffic, why not try to link to your new stuff from that older piece.

Stephen: Exactly, yup.

Nathan: Smart. Stephen, I think about SEO almost as a way to promote your content because it helps people naturally find it. I was wondering if you could layout for me some other ways that you promote your content.

Stephen: Sure. You’re absolutely right. SEO is just part and parcel of amplifying your content. One of the things we do in addition to making sure we’ve got all our SEO and on-page factors good is personally, I like to use social campaigns that CoSchedule has, the templates because that has been a super time saver to automate the social media promotion process. It helps generate awareness.

I’ve got a template set up now so that when I publish a post, I know exactly when things are going out, and automatically stuff goes out. The nice thing too is that with the helpers that we’ve got in CoSchedule, I can set up multiple headlines and I do these all ahead of time. I use CoSchedule’s headline analyser to figure out whether they’re going to be my best headlines to use for social sharing. I can all get that done as part and parcel of my promotion process.

The other thing I do too is I look for places where we can participate in various communities to share our content and really build that focus on helping people with specific issues related to what we do. The thing though, to be careful about when participating in these communities is to avoid link dropping. People do that too often. Really, what you need to do is show the audience or the community that you’re participating in how you can help them. If your content relates to it, great.

The other thing, as I mentioned before, is I do the email outreach. I’ll do it to people who I’ve mentioned in the post but also as well it really depends on the post. Some posts do very well in link and emailing people that are interested in a similar topic or that particular topic.

For example, we had done a piece on whether some research on whether or not long content ranks better. What we did is we looked back and we saw “Okay, there’s been some research done.” We found a post by another site but the research was four years old. We knew a lot of people link to that research so we contacted them. We said, “Hey, that was a nice piece. It was four years old. We’ve done some updated research. Take a look at it. You might want to update your link.” We did very well. There were a lot of people that were interested in it. It was a particular circumstance where there was an older quality post by somebody else but it was out of date so we could help that particular audience.

Nathan: I think that ties back actually to getting those links as part of your SEO strategy.

Stephen: Definitely. The thing to remember too is that when we’re automating tasks that can be automated intelligently like the social campaigns using CoSchedule, it just leaves a lot more time to spend on those one on one outreach activities that are really high value.

Nathan: You just mentioned the word automation, I want to dig in to that just a little bit. Why do you think it’s important for marketers to look at tools that automate tedious manual stuff?

Stephen: Here’s the thing, if you don’t automate it, you’re going to be stuck spending so much time just doing those tedious things. Some of that is just really hard to do. I’ll give you an example. Using CoSchedule, I can quickly analyse what things are working for us. I just look at my report and that’s it. It’ll be very difficult for me to dig through all the data. I guess I could do it, I could go through and dig through my Twitter feeds, and my Facebook, and whatnot, and I could do all that analysis myself. But you know what, we wouldn’t be talking right now, Nathan. I’d still be busy for my post a month ago trying to analyse it.

Even some of the simplest things, they’re not really simple, but CoSchedule will find out the optimal posting times based on my activity, my account, and my audience on my social media accounts. That’s just some stuff that I just simply could not do.

Or getting Grammarly here, the Hemingway to quickly find my grammatical error. That helps make my writing clear. Again, I could use somebody to that. That’s why we used to it, we used to have editors and I still do have somebody as a second set advice but it just makes life so much easier to use these apps that can automate this stuff.

Nathan: This whole time, we’ve been talking about your blog content and the way that you approach that. I’m wondering, how far ahead do you plan your blog content? How much content do you have complete at any given time?

Stephen: Like I was saying before, I like to plan out for about three months. It’s nothing you set in stone, so I like to keep it flexible. I’ve got tons of ideas on my Trello board. Fewer concepts that are in another list that still need flushing out, then I’ll usually have a couple of posts in the works. When I mean in the works, it means I really have a clear idea of what I’m going to be talking about, I’m doing the research, and I might have some of the post put together but it’s just not complete and ready to publish yet.

Nathan: Yes. Alright Stephen, I think it’s about time for us to wrap up. I was wondering if I could ask you one last question. What’s your best advice for someone new to this, someone creating search engine optimized content marketing? Where should they start or where should the focus first?

Stephen: Focus first on writing really good content that’s designed for people, because there’s just too much garbage out there right now that’s just not designed to be read by human audience.

Second is that once you do have good content, look to optimize your on-page elements so that the search engines can better understand its importance.

The third thing I would say is stay on topic with your posts. A website that has many pages focused around the same topic area is going to have a much time ranking for keywords related to that topic than the website that has posts about 20 different topics. Big brands, they can get away with that diversity but the only way for small sites to compete is to specialize.

Nathan: Alright Stephen, that sounds like awesome advice. Thanks so much for sharing your tips on finding keywords, optimizing our content, making sure that we stay relevant with search engines. Thanks for being on the show today.

Stephen: Thanks a lot Nathan. I appreciate it.

Nathan: My biggest take away is to optimize your content after it publishes. Over the past year at CoSchedule, we’ve strategically selected our top performing content to optimize it and republish. Our blog manager, Ben, is the in-house SEO wizard here at CoSchedule. He found this tactic has been a major player in increasing our organic search traffic by 594% over the course of a year.

Stephen, thank you so much for providing the great advice today on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Judging from some of our own results, I couldn’t agree more with your suggestions here to rank really well in search engines.

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