SEO moves fast. It’s an ever-changing discipline where what worked six months ago, might be completely out of date. However, there are some fundamentals that stay more or less the same.
When CoSchedule was first getting started, we knew we needed to attract the right kinds of customers. In order to pull those customers in, we also knew we needed to capture valuable search traffic.
That led to a lot of research.
Here are some of the basic strategies and tactics that guided our success:
- Focus on publishing compelling, quality content that is uniquely different and more valuable than anything else out there. That usually means it’s long-form content.
- Use the keywords your audience is searching for. Search engines understand synonyms and similar terminology, so using related keywords in multiple pieces of content helps the bots know what topics your site covers. That said, focusing on keywords for each piece of content you publish still matters.
- Offsite references, reviews, and social links play a role in how your content performs on search engines. Inbound links to your site are still important, and so is a logical sitemap with internal linking among pages.
- Content freshness matters. Keeping your content up to date helps search engines understand that your site is accurate today.
And of course, any SEO strategy should work hand-in-hand with a basic content strategy:
So let’s see how this sort of SEO content strategy really plays out with a deep dive of how we do it at CoSchedule.
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Results From Our SEO Content Strategy (Or Simply, This Stuff Works)
While there's a lot to SEO, we primarily focus on applying keywords to compelling, quality content. There's not much more to it than that.
And it's working:
Those results have helped us reach a larger audience, bringing in more than 150,000 email subscribers and increasing our customer base.
SEO was one tactic of our content strategy that contributed to these results. We had a lot of growth with our marketing calendar itself that boosted these results beyond the SEO tactics you're reading about now.
But it all adds up in the end.
What It Is And What It's Not
Did you know some folks in the SEO industry have actually talked about changing the term from search engine optimization to optimizing content for discovery and conversion or simply OC/DC?
SEO has become an infamous initialism some people relate to content targeted at ranking for robots instead of answering real people's questions. That is exactly what a great SEO content strategy is not. At least, that's not how we got the results we saw at CoSchedule.
While the term "OC/DC" hasn't widely caught on, the idea is perfect for setting up your SEO content strategy.
As Sean Jackson from Copyblogger puts it:
Optimizing Content for Discovery and Conversion, or “OC/DC” for short, encapsulates this idea of amplifying the overall reach and results of content creation.
Sean goes on to say there are two main aspects of OC/DC:
- On-site optimization is all about publishing awesome stuff in the first place. Interestingly enough, Sean didn't really cover growth hacks to optimize your content specifically for conversions, but this is definitely something we do at CoSchedule to turn traffic into subscribers.
- External optimization involves optimizing your content not only for search engines, but for tons of other referral sources, too. Republishing, repurposing, and distributing your content all fall within external optimization.
Essentially, Sean is spot on with this idea: Your SEO content strategy is not about thin content targeted at appealing to robots, rather, it's about publishing timely, compelling content your audience is seeking, and helping them find it.
Let's combine everything you just learned into the three steps you'll use to plan and execute your strategy:
1. Research And Target Keywords Relevant To Your Niche
Start by brainstorming the core topics for which you'd like to be known for.
Since we're talking through CoSchedule's story, here's how we did it:
CoSchedule is a marketing calendar for everything—blogging, social media, ads, e-books, brochures—you name it, you can plan it with CoSchedule.
We could talk about content types... but it makes more sense for us to target keywords around marketing strategy, planning, and that sort of thing to help you gals and guys doing the work execute more efficiently than ever.
Finding your marketing niche, especially in super broad industries, helps you hone in on your audience's needs really easily.
This topic definition focused our vision from any willy-nilly marketing topic to purely marketing strategy, planning, and execution—all things our audience can do even better when they use CoSchedule.
After you have the topics, it's time to find your keywords. First, watch this awesome video from Rand Fishkin at Moz to get started:
Then put everything you just learned into action:
- Enter your topics into Google's keyword planner tool and check out the keyword ideas tab. That shows you a ton of related terms people are searching for.
- Select the best related keywords and start a list. Words with low competition will catch your eye as opportunities. Those are keywords people are searching for, but there isn't a hefty amount of content available to answer their questions.
- From here, whip out SEMrush's keyword research tool to understand if the keyword is predicted to grow in popularity (making it worth your time to target), gauge your competition, and get a feel for the difficulty.
From here, we took Brian Dean's advice and found keywords that our audience would use to find CoSchedule as a tool for planning your marketing with a calendar, as well as the related keywords for our niche.
To clarify that a bit, there are some keywords that we found people search for like marketing calendar tool that show the searcher's intent is on finding an app like CoSchedule. We should show up in their search results for these sorts of terms, so we're creating a landing page that provides helpful advice on using a marketing calendar, then ends with information about how CoSchedule fills that need.
These keywords are very important because folks searching for these words are set on buying. If we can help searchers find CoSchedule as a solution for these terms, we have the opportunity to convert searchers into paying customers. It's demand generation.
This list is perfect for blog posts with terms like social media strategy template. That keyword is a core element of CoSchedule, providing a template of how to share content more than once on social media. Yet when we target this keyword, the goal is to provide a sweet download that helps our readers plan this on their own.
So these words are great because we know a need depending on the popularity of the keyword, so we can mention how CoSchedule is helpful. But really, these terms are usually the ones the doers search to learn how to do the work on their own without buying a tool like CoSchedule.
They are perfect keywords to target, however, because we can provide helpful advice on how to do it on their own, but if they just used CoSchedule, their lives would be even easier by consolidating their tool base thus saving 30 minutes for every piece of content they share.
See how that works?
2. Plan To Execute Your SEO Content Strategy
So you have a big list of keywords you could target with your content. Now it's time to plan how you'll actually accomplish your SEO content strategy to prioritize your projects and make execution a breeze.
There is a traditional approach for marketing project management that will help you do just this:
Initiate Your Project
Your SEO content strategy is made up of multiple projects. The first step is prioritizing your keywords according to your goals:
Start With Your Goals
We have three core marketing goals at CoSchedule that all build upon one another. Focusing on SEO helps us meet all of those goals:
- Grow traffic: Enabling our audience to find CoSchedule through search engines, guest posts, and republished content helps us grow our traffic.
- Increase subscribers: The content we publish on our blog, for the niche keywords specifically, always contains free downloadable content in exchange for an email address. In that way, we optimize our content not only to be found, but to also convert readers into subscribers by providing valuable bonus content.
- Get more customers: The content we publish that targets the product keywords helps us turn readers into customers by showing the value CoSchedule provides as a marketing tool.
From the get-go, it just makes sense for us to prioritize SEO as a valuable component of our overall content strategy.
That said, certain keywords have more impact on those goals than others. For us, it makes sense to focus on both product and niche keywords. Here's what to do:
- Prioritize each list of keywords according to importance for your business to help you reach your goals.
- Take a hard look at the average monthly searches, competition, and difficulty, and choose the ones that will be easiest for you to rank for now.
- Select the top 15 keywords from each list to have 30 total keywords to target in your first project.
Define Your Content Types
You could turn those keywords into a million different content formats, right? For each keyword, determine the best content type you'll use to rank for that keyword.
At CoSchedule, we specifically think about the keywords first, then apply our knowledge of why our audience is searching for that term to the process. That helps us choose the right content type for each.
Product: Think e-commerce pages, landing pages, and feature pages. These aren't necessarily best for blog posts because folks searching for these terms are likely ready to buy. Use the best content types to help you sell your product or service.
Niche: Think more traditional content marketing like blog posts, landing pages, templates, and tools.
Plan How You'll Execute Your Project
Ask yourself, "Who's doing what, and how will they do it?"
Resources: Take people, tools, and budget into account: How you'll actually create the content.
Schedule: Plan to publish two pieces of content each week. That'll help you knock out your first project in about two months while staggering the workload to not overwhelm your schedule.
Tasks: Look at each piece of content you'll create, and break it down into what needs to be done. It's like a workflow. If you have team members, meet with them to understand where their skills will come in handy.
Calendar: Plan your content on your marketing calendar, and add in the tasks for your workflow to nail every deadline.
3. Create, Publish, And Share Your Optimized Content
Google's best results on SEO content strategy suggest tons of ways to optimize your content as you create and share it. Here are the main things we focused on to grow our #1–3 search results by 248%:
Focus on Compelling, Quality Content
Yeah, I know how many more times you can hear that before you go nuts. But it's a lot easier said than done.
One of the top posts on this topic by Julia McCoy on Scoop.it suggests that brands like BMW, GE, and Red Bull are focusing on engagement tactics that are also helping people find their content.
And it's no surprise that Neil Patel would say something similar with his take on interactive content reducing your bounce rate:
Engagement and interactive content go hand in hand, and we’ve known it for quite a while.
Interactive education was originally studied at home and schools even before the Internet was a thing.
Let me define interactive education: Interactive education is teaching that requires participation from students.
Interactive content, as we’ll soon see, is the same thing—just swap out students for readers.
So while Neil is focusing on bounce rate, it isn't that far of a leap to suggest that focusing on engagement as a tactic to reduce bounce rate keeps readers on your site longer, helping them understand your content is awesome and influencing them to share or convert.
The more awesome it is, the more times it's shared. The more that happens, you'll see more backlinks to your site. All of that is a good thing for SEO.
For CoSchedule, engaging content is actionable: Tips and advice to plan better, write better, share better—and all of that with free downloads to help you remember the tips you learn when you're ready to implement the advice.
Write Long-Form Content
We started experimenting with long-form content in February 2014. In fact, Garrett did a whole little study with our data back then to share the results: 5 Things That Will Change Your Mind About Long Form Content Marketing.
It's no guarantee that search engines will rank long-form content that's about 2,000 words higher in their search engine results pages (SERPs) than a post that is around 500 words. But there is a lot to be said for the quality and depth of longer content that seems to complement the previous point on quality.
As Neil Patel puts it in another article on the KISSmetrics blog:
My number-crunching, data-loving self has come to the conclusion that search engines and people are really into long content. It converts better, shares better, looks better, and just is better.
But only to a point. I don’t want you to grovel in guilt or give up on blogging, just because you can’t write 2k-word articles. In an ideal world, we’d all be churning out 2k-word masterpieces. But in the real world, you don’t have to write 2,000-word articles.
That said, even when we recently published a blog post that reiterated that blog post length doesn't matter, it is now just part of our content culture to provide long-form, detailed, and actionable content:
The results have been great for us, and we're going to keep with it.
Build Internal Links
You never know which post will be the very first that someone sees on your blog. So we backlink to what we determine are the most important pages on our site from all of our new posts.
And you know what? Those pages that get linked to all the time are now some of our highest viewed and best converting on the entire CoSchedule website.
Internal linking is supposed to help search engines cruise around your site. We see this as an opportunity to focus on our audience, however, and direct them from new posts to some of the best content we've ever published.
Use the Keyword in Your Content
We keep this very simple:
- Page title
- Meta description
- Image name and alt (mainly for organization)
- At least a few times in the body copy (including in subheadlines)
There are many times when we let the context of the post speak for itself without changing the verbiage to jam the keyword in there a few more times. Search engines are smart and can read deep into context—you don't necessarily need every word in your long-tail keyword in the exact order.
In fact, Brian Dean, the wizard behind Backlinko, pulled together a bunch of stats to look for in your on-page SEO that you can focus on right now:
These are all things we've taken into account at CoSchedule to boost our SEO, too. It definitely works!
Understand Latent Semantic Indexing
Once you understand basic keyword targeting, digging into latent semantic indexing is the next step. It's a term describing the process search engines use to understand the relationships and context between related keywords.
For example, let's say you're writing a post about Chevy cars. If you included some text about the Impala and the Cruze, search engines can infer those are both types of Chevy vehicles. If your goal was to create a really comprehensive post about Chevy vehicles, you might include a subheader for each different model.
Search engines would then be able to see your page thoroughly covers its topic. Therefore, it would be more likely to rank well and drive traffic.
Here's how to put this principle into practice.
- Find terms related to your primary keyword. These can be related terms you find using Google's Keyword Planner. LSI Graph is another great free tool that can help uncover related keywords, based off of one primary term.
- Include those terms strategically in your content. Section subheaders are one logical place for your LSI keywords. Weave them naturally throughout your content as well where it's natural and appropriate.
That covers the basics of what you need to know.
Share Your Content
By sharing, I mean optimizing your content for your readers to share it while distributing it yourself to reach more people (remember that OC/DC thing?).
- First, we optimize our content to help you share it with social media buttons and Click To Tweet.
- We also use the social queue in CoSchedule to help us share our content with our followers. Sharing our content more than once has helped us get 3,150% more traffic.
- Content promotion including email distribution is a huge driver of traffic for us to keep our audience coming back.
- When we reference other folks' awesome content in our posts, we let them know through outreach marketing.
- We help our guest bloggers promote their content by providing helpful tips after their posts publish.
All of these techniques help us gain the visibility our content needs to be shared, which grows our traffic and helps search engines understand its value.
Claim Unlinked Mentions For Your Content
Once you've started publishing content, getting rankings, and growing your brand presence, people are going to start talking to you.
And that's awesome.
However, sometimes people might forget to link back to your content when they're mentioning your stuff. Those missing backlinks represent a missed opportunity to drive even more referral traffic and improve your search engine rankings.
An easy way to monitor mentions is to set up a Google Alert for your brand name, and some terms related to your industry. Here's a quick video that'll show you how:
Now, any time those terms are mentioned on the web, you'll get an email notification. Check those mentions to see if they include a link to your site.
If they don't, find the contact information for those sites. Then, send them a quick email thanking them for the coverage, and ask if they'd consider adding a link. Here's some sample email text you can copy and paste:
My name is [INSERT YOUR NAME], and I'm the [INSERT POSITION] at [INSERT COMPANY]. I noticed you mentioned us on your site here:
However, we noticed the link to our [HOME PAGE/BLOG POST] is missing. Would you consider adding a link to make it easier for your readers to find us? Here is the URL:
Thanks for mentioning us on your blog! Our team appreciates the coverage.
Most of the time, people will be glad to add in the link. Since they've mentioned your company, they have to be interested in what you do, right?
Here are some additional tools for finding unclaimed mentions:
- BuiltVisible's free Link Reclamation Tool.
- BuzzSumo's monitoring and alerts can track unlinked mentions (and email you more detailed reports than Google Alerts). It's a paid tool, but it's indispensable for our team.
- This guide from Moz and this one from Ahrefs are packed with more detailed information on turning brand mentions into links.
OK, Now Go Execute Your Plan
Here is our best advice to get started on your content creation process while taking into consideration everything you just learned about optimizing your content:
- Angles: Know exactly what you'd like the outcome of your content to look like. A great angle is appealing to real readers while targeting a keyword just helps them find your content. This is where the compelling nature of your content comes into play.
- Outlines: Stay on point in your content by beginning with an outline. This is also a great way to make sure you cover your angle.
- Headlines: Write emotional headlines. There is some research out there to show that a variation of your keyword in your headlines to help them feel less like search engine bait is a good thing.
- Introductions: Focus your first 100 words on drawing the reader in. Start with interesting facts, stories, anecdotes, and similar hooks to keep your readers reading. Brian Dean suggests using your keyword at least once in your introduction.
- Body: Follow your angle and outline and write your content. Use your keyword naturally. Take Julie's advice: How To Write A Blog Post: Your 5-Point Checklist To Rock A Perfect Post.
- Calls to action: Provide free content in exchange for email addresses and include calls to action for hard sales of your product or service. You're blogging to make money; don't forget to ask for it.
What Doesn't Work (And Other Lessons Learned)
Knowing what worked is all fine and dandy. But we made a few mistakes you can learn from and avoid ever making in the first place:
- Adding in keywords after the post is written: Boy, this is super tough and feels like keyword stuffing. It's great to write posts that cover an idea no one has ever searched—that's thought leadership. Just know in your head that thought leadership is the point and adding in a keyword here and there may just make it awkward.
- Guest bloggers: It's super great to help them know exactly which keyword to use and your expectations before they get too far along. See point #1 for why.
- Headlines: Having your keyword in your headlines is important. But it's not worth the risk if you make it unreadable for humans. Don't be afraid to use a synonym for your keyword in your headline if you have to because your primary audience is, and will always be, people over robots.
To top it off, here are the things I want to target in the near future to improve even more:
- Choosing the right keywords faster: I've been known to drag my heels on certain content, searching for a millennium for the perfect keyword. It is a super important process, but we plan to publish for a long time to come. So it's easiest to just pick a few and run with them now to keep us moving.
- Improving older content: There are tons of ways to optimize the content that's already published on your site. Lately, I've been researching the Google's 2oo ranking factors in a list from Brian Dean and plan to check out no-follow links, headlines, last updated dates (freshness), and just plain old better on-page optimization in old posts.
- More product-centric landing pages for demand generation: There are lots of product keywords out there that people could use to find CoSchedule. I'd like to target all of them with dedicated features pages and landing pages.
- More super long landing pages because we know they work: Our blog posts convert readers into subscribers really well. But. Our landing pages perform even better. That said, we're going to publish more keyword-targeted landing pages with free offers to convert readers into subscribers. (By the way, some of those landing pages are only able to be found by search engines, so that tells you how much we rely on the robots to help people find our content.)
- More interactive content and tools: You guys love the headline analyzer. It's the #1 search result for that term. So it would make sense to bring you more interactive content we know you'll love.
Good luck as you get started with your SEO content strategy. And please, if you know of other marketers who may benefit from this information, please share it with your friends.
[Question "How have you used SEO in your content strategy?]
This post was originally published on July 29, 2015. It was updated with new information on March 31, 2017.