By now, you’ve heard that “content is king” too many times to count, and the last thing you need is another reminder that search engine optimization (SEO) should form a central part of your digital marketing mix.
Yet the content you create for your company website just doesn’t seem to be moving the needle. Your ranking improvements are modest at best, your organic traffic is far from booming, and, as a result, your conversion rates are standing still. To put it bluntly, your investment isn’t paying off.
So, what’s missing?
Well, the one thing all Google-topping websites have in common is a sound SEO content marketing strategy. There’s simply no alternative way for you to earn and maintain strong search rankings over time.
Our aim in this guide is to spell out all the steps involved in building a winning SEO content strategy. We’ll walk you through everything from goal-setting and market research to developing an editorial calendar and tracking your content’s progress. Once we’re done, you’ll know what’s needed to reinvigorate your SEO game.
But first up, a quick reminder of the central role content plays in achieving SEO success.
The Role of Content in Any SEO Strategy
Google’s entire business model is built on its algorithm’s ability to serve search users with content that best meets their needs.
This basic fact explains why successful marketers pour so much time and energy into developing their content strategies.
Creating high-quality content that serves your audience’s needs dramatically boosts your chances of ranking highly on Google’s results pages. And the higher your content ranks, the more organic traffic you receive.
This raises the question: how should you go about creating content that serves your audience’s needs?
Finding the right answer to this question is crucial for staying ahead of the pack. With so many businesses pumping out content to boost their organic reach, the competition for search engine real estate is fierce.
With that in mind, and to give you the best chance of building an SEO and content strategy that gets results, you first need to appreciate how search engines decide which content to surface.
How Search Engines Evaluate Content
Back in the early days of the internet, search engines like Google ranked content based largely on how closely the keywords in the content matched the user’s search query. The closer the match, the likelier it was the content would rank well.
Clearly, this basic approach to ranking content was open to manipulation. By ensuring that their pages contained the right keywords, unscrupulous marketers were able to achieve great rankings without providing users with any real value.
Fortunately, Google has come a long way since then by developing increasingly sophisticated methods to serve users with better and better results.
Nowadays, Google preferentially ranks relevant content as opposed to pages that happen to include an exact match to the search string. It does this by relying on hundreds of ranking factors that enable it to accurately determine which content best satisfies the user’s search query.
While the details of these ranking factors are largely unknown to Google outsiders (and insiders for that matter!), we do know from the company’s Search Quality Guidelines that it deems a high-quality page to be one that:
- Achieves its purpose well,
- Demonstrates a high degree of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T),
- Includes a satisfying amount of high-quality content.
The upshot of all this is that the best way to ensure your site ranks in Google is by creating a content strategy for SEO that prioritizes the production of high-value, problem-solving content.
Now let’s see how to do just that!
How To Create an SEO Content Strategy
Follow each of the following steps to develop a content strategy for SEO:
Step 1: Create Goals
A strategy without goals isn’t a strategy.
So the first step in creating your SEO content strategy is to hash out exactly what you want to accomplish.
This will focus your content production efforts and provide clear accountability for you and your content team.
When coming up with your specific content goals, it’s a good idea to work backward from your company’s broader marketing objectives.
For example, if your main focus for the next 12 months is to increase your brand awareness, you might simply make increasing organic traffic your primary target.
But if your priority is to generate more leads, your focus might be to drive more relevant traffic to your site (as opposed to merely increasing website visitors).
Most SEO content campaigns will focus on one or more of the following content marketing goals:
- Increasing brand awareness
- Increasing brand engagement
- Generating more leads
- Increasing conversions
Remember, the goal you choose determines the rest of your strategy. As we’ll see, it affects which audience segments you target, the topics you cover, the content formats you use, and the metrics you track to measure your success.
Step 2: Understand the Target Audience
The next phase of building an SEO content strategy is to clarify who you’re trying to reach.
After all, to create content that meets your audience’s needs, you first need to understand who your audience is.
A good approach here is to construct a buyer persona (sometimes called a ‘customer avatar’). This is essentially a composite of your ideal customer’s characteristics, preferences, and motivations, which you can then use to figure out which content is most likely to resonate with your target market.
You can flesh out your buyer persona by speaking directly with one or two of your best existing customers, either by interviewing them or sending them a questionnaire. Be sure to inquire about their goals and values, any pain points they experience as customers in your industry, any sites they visit to find information to help with their problems, and anything else you think will help you better understand the kind of content they’re most likely to consume.
It’s also worth creating separate buyer personas for prospects and customers at different levels of awareness. This is because someone at the early stages of the buyer journey is likely to have significantly different content needs than someone who’s bought from you in the past.
By segmenting your target audience according to their level of awareness, you’ll make it much easier to create content that meets your specific content goals.
For example, if your main goal is to increase brand awareness, then a good understanding of what drives your low-awareness audience will help you develop content that meets their particular needs. Likewise, if your goal is to increase conversions, then knowing what matters to your product-aware audience members will help make your content more persuasive.
Another way to figure out what makes your audience tick is to conduct some industry research by studying the existing search landscape in your niche.
Head to Google and ask yourself what type of content do the top-performing competitors in your niche publish? What topics do they cover? With what level of depth? And how is the information presented?
Carrying out a thorough competitor analysis will give you a good sense of what content already works well for your audience and may even give you early hints about how to do it better.
Step 3: Identify Article Topics with Keyword Research
Now that you’ve built a clear picture of your typical target customer, it’s time to identify content ideas that help them solve their problems.
Thanks to your work during the previous step, you’ll probably already have a pretty good sense of the kind of topics your target customers care about. That said, here are some ways to bulk out your bank of topic ideas.
- Focus on the content that’s performed best for you in the past and think of ways you might expand upon it.
- Review customer feedback from your sales and customer service departments. Are there any questions or objections that repeatedly crop up?
- Study the comments section of your competitors’ content to see if there’s demand for certain missing information.
- Similarly, study the comments section of YouTube videos related to your product or service.
- Check discussion boards and social media accounts that are popular with your target market to see what they’re talking about.
- Take a deep dive into your competitors’ content and keep an eye out for apparent gaps in the content market!
While these methods can often yield some golden insights, there’s no denying that they involve a fair amount of manual work.
A less time-intensive way to gather more content ideas is to use a free topic-generating tool like Answer The Public. Simply input a seed term, and the tool will churn out a variety of related questions based on real-life Google search data.
Here are the topic ideas around the seed term ‘how to create an online course’:
Another free way to find several topic ideas at once is to conduct keyword research using Google’s Keyword Planner.
Once again, just enter your seed phrase into the search bar, and the tool will spit out hundreds of related keyword suggestions that you can then scour for topic inspiration. We recommend you repeat this process for several seed terms so that you end up with an extensive list of relevant keywords.
After you’ve pinpointed some suitable topic areas and amassed a list of related keywords, you’ll need to ensure you’ve collected search volume and keyword difficulty data for each term in your list.
Keyword Planner has an option that lets you upload a list of keywords and find their associated monthly search volumes. Just click “Get search volume and forecasts” in the main menu and paste or upload your list.
(Note: You’ll need to set up a Google Ads campaign to receive precise search volumes instead of mere range estimates.)
Premium keyword research tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush are especially helpful for finding keyword difficulty scores (you can also use their free versions for more limited data). These scores provide an indication of how difficult it’s likely to be to create content that ranks for a given keyword. All else being equal, the higher the keyword difficulty, the higher your domain authority must be to compete realistically for rankings.
Now that you’ve finalized your keyword list and furnished it with the relevant data, it’s time to identify which keywords you’ll be targeting with your new content.
Remember that each piece of content you create should target a specific primary keyword – the main keyword you want that page to rank for.
Your goal here should be to select keywords that: (a) have a high enough search volume to drive significant traffic and (b) have a low enough difficulty rating that you have a good chance of ranking for them.
To this end, a good tactic is to seek out long-tail keywords. A long-tail keyword is any query that contains three or more words, generally used when someone seeks a specific piece of information. Long-tail keywords tend to have lower search volumes but more significant ranking potential than more generic terms.
Step 4: Develop an Editorial Calendar
Before you jump straight into creating content, it’s essential to decide on the order in which you’ll produce and publish the various articles in your content pipeline.
An editorial calendar (or content calendar) won’t just let you prioritize the creation of the highest-impact content; it will also make it easier to manage the time and energy of your content production team.
So what factors might you consider when deciding on the strategic priority of your content?
One smart approach is to start by picking your most important topic area and creating a topic cluster around it.
Topic clusters are essentially a collection of articles focusing on distinct aspects of a particular subject matter. They are a great way to ensure your site covers a topic thoroughly while maximizing your ability to rank for various thematically-related keywords.
At the heart of the topic cluster lies a ‘pillar piece,’ which usually targets a generic, high-volume keyword and provides a surface-level overview of the topic in question. The pillar piece contains links to other pieces of cluster content, each of which targets a long-tail keyword and covers a specific sub-topic in more detail.
For example, suppose your chosen topic area was ‘online courses.’ Your pillar page would provide a general overview of the concept while linking out to more specific, related posts like ‘why create an online course,’ ‘how to plan an online course,’ and ‘how to market an online course.’
Step 5: Write Engaging Content That Satisfy Search Intent
It’s finally time to create some content!
Remember, your overarching goal here is to create best-in-class, high-quality content that leaves a lasting impression on your readers. The more valuable your content, the more likely it is your readers will share it on social media platforms, the more referral traffic you’ll receive from sites linking back to you, and, with time, the higher you’ll climb in the search results.
Great content is content that genuinely fulfills the user’s search intent. In other words, you want to ensure that your content meets (and exceeds) the expectations a user has when searching around the keyword you’re targeting.
Since Google’s algorithm is fine-tuned for surfacing results that satisfy their users’ search intent, you can gauge the search intent behind your target keyword just by looking at the content that currently ranks highest for it.
Make sure your post addresses all the important points covered in these results, and be sure to inject some additional value wherever possible. Also, take note of the content formats used in these results. If each top-ranking result is a blog post, it’s best to assume your content should follow the same format.
(Check out our blog post outline guide to learn more about how to plan and produce high-value blog posts.)
Step 6: Optimize Writing for Search Engines
While it’s true that writing value-packed articles that solve your readers’ problems is a central part of SEO content creation, it’s not the whole story.
You also need to ensure your content can be easily crawled and indexed by search engines.
First, make sure that you’ve incorporated your target keyword into your page title, H1 header tag, and at least once or twice throughout your copy (and be careful to avoid keyword stuffing!).
Next up, meta descriptions. A meta description is a sentence or two summarizing what your post is about and it appears as the descriptive piece of text within your search result. As such, it’s essential to appeal immediately to the user’s search intent and, once again, to incorporate your target keyword.
Another focal point of your on-page content strategy should be your internal links. Internal linking is helpful for readers who want to learn more about adjacent topics and makes it easier for search engine crawlers to analyze the structure of your site.
For more helpful tips on creating optimized content, check out our in-depth guide on how to write for SEO. And don’t forget you can find countless SEO tools online to help ensure your pages are search-engine-friendly.
Step 7: Keep Articles Fresh with Up-to-Date Info
Creating SEO content isn’t a one-and-done activity.
Since new competitor content will always threaten to muscle in on your hard-earned rankings, you must continually revisit even your best-performing pieces and ensure they contain the most relevant, fresh, and comprehensive information out there.
This is even true of evergreen content pages that don’t contain time-sensitive information. The only way to keep competitors at bay is to periodically review your content and ensure it’s the best around. That means ensuring your presentation is on-point, your examples are solid, your data is illuminating, and your coverage is comprehensive.
Step 8: Develop Content KPIs
You’ll need to establish some easy-to-track key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure whether your new SEO content marketing strategy is working.
While the main goal is to drive traffic, the specific KPIs you choose will largely depend on the particular content goals you set in step 1.
Here are some useful KPIs to keep an eye on for different content goals:
- Brand awareness: Unique page views, keyword rankings, backlinks.
- Content engagement: Bounce rate, time on page, pages per session.
- Leads: Subscriber growth, downloads, form responses.
- Conversions: Goal completion, revenue.
Step 9: Track Content ROI
You’ll need to ensure you’ve set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console accounts to track whether your new content is hitting your keyword targets and driving more traffic.
These free-to-use tools provide accurate, real-time data about how users are engaging with your site and how your content is performing in the search results.
And while there’s no clear-cut method for determining your content marketing ROI, the following formula should give you a good indication of whether your content creation is paying off:
Content ROI = ((profit - content production costs) / content production costs) x 100
So, for example, if your profit was $8000, and your content production costs were $1000, your content ROI would be +700%.
SEO Content Strategy Vs. Content Marketing Strategy
At this point, you might be wondering whether there’s any difference between an SEO content strategy and a content marketing strategy.
The truth is that the former is a subset of the latter.
An SEO content strategy focuses exclusively on the planning and production of content designed to appear in search results and drive organic traffic.
Meanwhile, a content marketing strategy also focuses on content created for other digital marketing purposes, like email newsletters, videos, and lead magnets.
Start Building Your SEO Content Strategy Today
Carefully planned and well-crafted content is the lifeblood of any successful content marketing and SEO strategy.
We’ve seen that the key to sustainably creating content that performs well in search results is to set clear content goals, figure out what drives your target audience, conduct thorough topical and keyword research, and build a content calendar. When creating SEO content, it’s essential to commit to producing fresh, high-value, and optimized work and to track your progress closely.
Now it’s time for you to apply what you’ve learned and start building your own new SEO content strategy.