If you’re reading this, we’re willing to bet that you’re already sold on the massive value that content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) can bring to your business.
But how can you get the best possible return on your content investments? What should you do to ensure the time and effort you pour into creating great content doesn’t go to waste?
The answer is content optimization.
In this post, we’ll cover all the basics of content optimization, explain why you need to set clear content goals, show you how to optimize your content, and suggest some tools you can use to ensure your content is both user and search engine friendly.
But first up, what is content optimization, and why should you care?
What Is Content Optimization?
Content optimization is the practice of maximizing your content’s ability to meet your content goals.
These goals might be to improve your content’s ability to rank well in Google, draw in traffic, convert visitors, or generate backlinks. In fact, when done correctly, content optimization can help you achieve each of these goals simultaneously.
Content optimization involves tweaking your content so that it’s more intelligible to search engines and more appealing to your target audience. As we’ll see, these tweaks can include better integrating your target keywords, improving your content’s readability, and adding new, salient information to your posts.
It’s important to appreciate that content optimization applies just as much to your existing content as it does to new pieces.
Why Is It Important?
Content optimization is essential even if you’re fully committed to consistently creating high-quality content. It’s a crowded and competitive world out there, so you need to pull out all the stops to get your content noticed.
That said, high-quality and well-optimized content is an unstoppable combo. Once you marry the two, the rewards can be significant and include:
- Improved rankings: Optimized content is easier for search engines to interpret, giving your pages a better chance of ranking prominently in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
- More backlinks: If your content is high-quality and easy to find in search engines, you’ll naturally accrue more backlinks as people link to your site as a source. The more backlinks you receive from reputable websites, the more your domain authority (DA) will increase. This, in turn, will make it easier for your content to rank well in search engines.
- Increased brand authority: If members of your target audience keep noticing your brand appearing in the SERPs when they search around topics in your niche, they’ll begin to view you as a trustworthy industry authority.
- Better quality traffic: Since a well-optimized piece of content reflects the user’s specific search intent, it will tend to attract better-qualified and more conversion-ready visitors.
- Prevention of content decay: By continually optimizing your content assets, you safeguard against content decay. Content decay occurs when you fail to update your content regularly, leading your competitors to overtake you with more fresh content.
Okay, so content optimization is a critical part of successful content marketing – but where should you start?
Content Optimization Goals
To get the most out of your content optimization efforts, you’ll need to approach it in a well-structured and goal-oriented manner.
As we touched on earlier, content optimization is generally aimed at achieving one or more of the following goals:
- Move to the top of the SERPs: This is the holy grail of SEO. The top-ranking search result gets around 31.7% of clicks, while the combined results on page two of Google get just 0.78% of clicks. So the value of better rankings is undeniable.
- More organic traffic: Increased organic traffic comes from better rankings, people sharing your content on social media, and people linking back to your content. Of course, the more traffic you receive, the greater your pool of potential customers.
- Brand recognition and loyalty: High-quality content that’s easy to find on Google does a great job at convincing your audience that you understand their needs. The more value you deliver through your content, the easier it will be to build a loyal audience that spreads the word about your brand.
- Higher conversion rates: A better conversion rate comes from creating well-presented and hyper-relevant content that reflects the user’s search intent.
But as important as these overarching goals are, they aren’t enough to build a successful content optimization strategy. After all, different pieces of content serve different purposes and will therefore require different types of improvements.
What you need is a way to identify which of your pages are the highest priority and what you need to do to optimize them. So we recommend you conduct an audit of your existing content to build a general picture of what needs work.
Create a spreadsheet listing each content page and populate it with performance data gathered from Google Search Console and Google Analytics. You’ll want to specify how well each page is doing across key metrics, such as organic impressions, visits, and conversions. You should also identify which keywords each page is currently ranking for and to what degree the page is user-friendly.
This exercise will make it easier to prioritize your optimization efforts and help you identify gaps in your existing content strategy that you can fill by creating new, pre-optimized pieces.
For more information on how to conduct a content audit, check out this in-depth guide from HubSpot.
Once you have a clear idea of your content goals and which pages need your attention first, it’s time to start optimizing!
9 Content Optimization Tips
Below you’ll find a collection of essential content optimization best practices that you should implement whatever your specific content goals are.
Integrate Your Keywords
Arguably the most important optimization technique in SEO writing is ensuring that each piece of content targets a unique and relevant keyword.
A focus keyword is simply the keyword you want your content to rank for. By ensuring that your content includes several instances of this keyword, you’ll send a clear signal to Google that your page is a suitable match for related search queries.
One of the easiest ways to find focus keyword ideas is to head to Google Search and begin typing words related to your content topic into the search bar. Google will automatically display a variety of related searches that you can use as inspiration for your keyword selection:
You can use a similar tactic with the YouTube search bar and also head to Answer the Public for bulk keyword suggestions:
Ideally, you’ll identify a keyword with a relatively low keyword difficulty and high monthly search volume. This combination will give you the best chance of ranking higher and attracting more traffic.
You can learn more about how to conduct keyword research in our focus keyword guide.
Once you’ve decided which keyword you want your content to target, you’ll need to incorporate it throughout your page.
It’s important not to go overboard with this, though. Keyword stuffing is the practice of shoehorning as many instances of your keyword into your content as possible. It makes for a spammy reading experience and may even lead you to incur a Google penalty. Try to ensure your keyword makes up less than 3% of your total word count.
If you’re covering your topic thoroughly, chances are your content will naturally contain an appropriate keyword density. That said, you should aim to include your keyword in all the following places:
- URL slug: At least once
- Title tag: At least once (towards the start)
- H1 tag: At least once (towards the start)
- H2, H3, and H4 tags: Once (if possible) into one of these headings
- Meta description: At least once
- Image alt-text: In at least one image alt-text
- Introduction: At least once
- Body content: Approximately 3 to 5 times
You should also be sure to integrate semantically-related variations of your keyword throughout your content.
Google doesn’t just rely on your focus keyword to determine whether your content is a suitable match for a given search query. It also uses Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) to understand the context of your page and figure out if it reflects the user’s search intent.
So, for example, if your focus keyword is ‘how to landscape a backyard for privacy,’ your LSI keywords may include phrases like ‘ways to block neighbor’s view,’ ‘backyard privacy ideas,’ and ‘how to create privacy in a backyard without a fence.’
Use A Logical Heading Structure
Another key feature of a well-optimized post is a clear and coherent heading structure.
Headers are formatted using header tags – snippets of HTML code that tell the browser how to style the corresponding text on your page. They are used to break up your content into different sections and subsections.
Using header tags to establish an information hierarchy ensures that your post has a logical progression and makes it easier for readers to jump to whatever sections they find most interesting. Search engines also pick up on header tags to understand which parts of a page cover a given topic.
The most important header tag is the H1 tag, which looks like this: <h1> Header tag </h1>. This tag is generally used to title your content and plays a crucial role in letting search engines know what your post is about.
The next level header tag is the H2 tag, which introduces the main sections of your content. You should structure your H2 tags such that a reader can quickly scan your page and get a good idea of what topics are covered. The heading at the top of this section is an H2 tag and would look like this in the HTML code: <h2> Use A Logical Heading Structure </h2>.
H3 tags are nested within H2 tags and should be used whenever you need to introduce a subsection. H4, H5, and H6 tags follow a similar nesting structure but are less commonly used.
While the main point of using headings is to provide a clear structure to your content, you should also try to make them as compelling as possible so that readers don’t just scan your content. It’s also important to ensure that your headers remain consistent throughout your website – so if you use title case in your headers on one page, make sure you use the same format on other pages.
Write A Compelling Meta Description
Another often overlooked aspect of content optimization is creating unique meta descriptions for each page.
A meta description is a piece of HTML code that gives a short description of what your page is about. Search engines often use them to generate search snippets for individual SERP results.
Although meta descriptions won’t affect your content’s ability to rank, it’s a mistake to neglect them. This is because meta descriptions act as a kind of free ‘organic-search ad,’ and the better your ad, the more users you’ll convince to click through to your page.
Since Google truncates any descriptions longer than about 160 characters, you only have about two sentences to work with to persuade users that your result is the right one for them.
So what should you include in your meta descriptions?
As we mentioned earlier, you should include your focus keyword feature somewhere in your description. This is because Google will highlight any text in the description that also features in the user’s search query. In other words, including your keyword will help your result stand out.
To make your description more enticing, make sure it speaks directly to the user’s search intent (i.e., what problem they’re trying to solve). You should also give an indication of what unique value your content provides and animate the reader with a compelling call-to-action (CTA).
Check out our meta description tutorial for more advice on how to create perfectly-optimized descriptions.
Include Images and Video
Adding photos, screenshots, graphics, and video content to your posts will help illustrate your main points and provide additional context that you might find harder to express in writing.
Visual elements like these will also give your visitors a welcome break from reading!
The key is to ensure that any visuals add to your message instead of detracting away from it – videos and images should be significantly related to the surrounding text.
Once again, don’t forget to add descriptive alt-text to your images.
Use The Right Number of Words
While there isn’t an official optimal word count that can guarantee you high rankings, the goal should always be to live up to the user’s search intent and provide comprehensive coverage of the topic at hand.
One of the simplest ways to gauge the right word count for your article is to check how long the (currently) top-ranking articles are for your target keyword. After all, Google’s business is built around surfacing results that match the user’s search intent – so if the top three results are around 1,500 words long, it’s safe to assume that your word count should sit in a similar range.
Here at WordAgents, we like to take the average length of the top 10 results and add an extra 10% on top. This ensures that we have enough room to cover all the topics our competitors cover and leaves a little extra space for us to provide some unique, additional value to our readers.
Format For Easy Consumption
We’ve already seen how using structured headings can help optimize content by improving the scannability of your blog post. But there are plenty of other formatting tips that can help make your content easier to digest.
First of all, you should try to limit your paragraphs to between 3 to 5 ‘visual lines’ (i.e., the number of lines you would count on a screen), and ensure that you include a line break between each paragraph.
You should also do your best to keep sentences concise. Remember, the main job of your content is to convey information in a clear and accessible way, so use simple language where possible and avoid using needless words.
Bold and italic formatting is handy for emphasizing important information – but don’t overuse them!
Finally, lists (unordered and ordered) and tables are an excellent way to cleanly present connected pieces of information, like steps in a process or a group of related items.
Integrate Links for Credibility
Linking is another key component of optimizing content.
Adding links to your content – both internal and external – gives readers an easy way to learn more about related topics and provides Google with a route to other pages so it can better discern what your website is about.
What’s more, linking to other useful resources from reputable sites improves your trustworthiness in the eyes of users.
Make sure you embed all your links into contextual anchor text, so users and Google know what the destination page is about (plus, a copy-and-pasted URL looks ugly!). And only direct users to other pages if you think they’ll find them relevant.
Keep It Fresh
Earlier in the post, we mentioned the problem of content decay, where your content’s traffic and rankings begin to decline as your competitors publish new content. This boils down to the ‘freshness factor,’ which describes Google’s preference for recently updated content.
Note that content decay is only a significant problem for content with a built-in shelf-life (such as ‘New Gardening Tools for 2022’). On the other hand, evergreen content is more resilient to the passing of time.
The obvious defense against content decay is to periodically update your content with fresh and relevant information. Just make sure that any new information you add doesn’t damage your existing optimization efforts.
Our final tip for website optimization is to include interactive elements in your content wherever it adds value to your audience.
For example, quizzes, tools, and calculators are great ways to promote more engagement with your content and further motivate your readers to share your content with others.
Content Optimization Tools
Content optimization can be a pretty time-consuming undertaking if you do it manually.
Here are some of our favorite tools to help speed up the process of content creation and optimization.
MarketMuse is a useful content optimization tool that provides content marketers with AI-generated guidance on what to cover in their content to get an edge on their competitors.
A limited plan is available for free. The standard plan is $7,200 per year, while the premium plan starts at $12,000.
Frase is another tool that helps marketers streamline their content workflows by generating content briefs based on an input keyword and providing optimization tips. The tool also includes an AI writing assistant that lets you automatically generate optimized content.
Prices for individual users start at $16.99 per month if paid annually. The Team plan costs $99.99 per month if paid annually.
Grammarly is an online writing assistant tool that provides spelling and grammar corrections, style recommendations, and plagiarism detection.
You’ll need to pay to unlock all the features, with prices starting at $12.00 per month for individual users and $12.50 per month per user for the business plan.
Hemingway Editor is another online writing assistant that helps you polish your writing by highlighting common errors and complex sentences.
Unlike Grammarly, the online version of Hemingway Editor is completely free to use. The desktop version costs $19.99.
Start Optimizing Your Content Today
Content optimization is a vital part of executing a successful content marketing strategy.
Without it, it’s unlikely you’ll manage to attract many visitors to your site, and you risk wasting your content investment.
We’ve seen that the foundation of any content optimization strategy is setting clear goals and understanding the current state of your content. From there, you can implement optimization best practices to ensure your content lives up to its potential.
Now it’s time for you to put what you’ve learned into practice!
What are your favorite content optimization hacks? Are there any others you think we should add to our list? Let us know in the comments!