SEO & Content Marketing: A Match Made In Heaven

By Ben Fisher

Everything is changing.

The good news is, things are changing for the better, and we have Google to thank for that. But change can be difficult to adapt to.

There’s a million new rules to follow and things that were once proven to be beneficial now make things worse.

Luckily, the Gurus are here to guide you through this ever-changing marketing landscape.

We’ll show you how to combine SEO and content marketing together in order to grow your brand into something exceptional.

If you can adhere to some basic rules and guidelines, a new source of traffic and leads is just around the corner.

I think Jordan Teicher, Senior Editor at Contently said it best:

“SEO isn’t about gaming the system anymore; it’s about learning how to play by the rules.”

Google has been rolling out algorithm changes non-stop in order to clean up their search results and make the internet a better place for us all.

Even though these changes are good for everyone, you’d think they’re doing us a disservice by looking at blogs and message boards after each update.

People whine. People scream. People do all sorts of silly things.

Change is inevitable, but more importantly, change comes with good reason. Without Google’s algorithm changes, the romantic spark between SEO and content marketing would have never happened.

We would all still be looking at first page results that resembled something out of a horror film.

In the past, marketers only had to focus on one thing. More often than not this was SEO. Content marketing didn’t start gaining popularity until recent years.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do one without the other, but if you want to compete with the big boys, it’s time you understand how they work together, and why you should be utilizing both.

These content marketing statistics paint a very real picture:

  • 76% of B2B marketers say they will produce more content in 2016. (CMI)
  • 51% of B2B buyers rely more on content to research and make B2B purchasing decisions than they did a year ago. (2016 DemandGen Report)
  • 80% of business decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement (Business 2 Community)

And a few on SEO:

  • 57% of B2B marketers say SEO has the biggest impact on lead generation (NewsCred)
  • 81% of b2b purchase cycles start with an internet search (Freely)
  • 66% of leading companies involve SEO in their content creation process from the start (Contently)

What can we take away from these statistics?

  1. Content marketing is growing quite rapidly
  2. People decide to buy specific products based on the content they’ve consumed
  3. SEO isn’t dead (not even close)

People are still using search engines to find what they need. As long as this remains true, SEO will remain a huge focus for all marketers.

It’s important to educate yourself and keep up with changes in the industry. Spend some time reading industry blogs like Moz, CMI and Quicksprout. Your competition is reading them and you should be too.

Even a simple Google news search for “content marketing 2017” will return some useful information.

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How SEO & Content Marketing Come Together

Most people have only a vague understanding of what these terms mean.

SEO – refers to the the on-page and off-page techniques we use to bring in more search engine traffic

Content Marketing – involves creating and distributing valuable content to bring in traffic various mediums

But how do they come together?

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Well, in the past, we didn’t have to think about providing real value to our website visitors. We could throw together a mediocre 300-500 word piece of content stuffed with keywords and call it a day.

Obviously, that’s no longer the case.

Google’s algorithm now takes different metrics into account for their search results. They’re not only looking at the actual content length, but also user metrics such time on page, bounce rate, and click-through rates.

This study done by similarweb shows how they increased organic rankings by removing pages with lots of impressions and low CTR.

Actually, they simply added a no-index tag to these pages, removing them from Google’s search results.

This gave their overall bounce rate, pages per session and average session duration a boost site-wide.

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In the end, their average keyword position increased by 26% and CTR saw a 23% increase.

We can conclude from this that Google now pays close attention to user engagement metrics and uses them to influence search results.

That means if we don’t provide some real value for our readers, we can no longer compete in the marketplace.

Start creating long form content intended to be the best resource for a specific topic. Let’s take this piece on customer loyalty by Sujan Patel as an example.

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From the beginning, you can tell the content creator put some effort into the piece.

Hiring professional designers and illustrators to supplement your content is now more effective than ever. Visually appealing content keeps people engaged, which in turn makes them spend more time on the page.

This will directly impact your Google rankings (in a positive way).

Not to mention, people are significantly more likely to share something that’s visually stimulating.

As your scroll down the page, a table of contents is present with clickable text to navigate through the piece.

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This is a useful technique that both Google and your audience will love.

A few years ago, we’d rarely see anyone putting in large amounts of effort for a single lengthy content piece, but nowadays Google is now forcing it upon us.

The only people that see this as a bad thing are the people who have never pushed anything but low-grade content.

Marketmuse analyzed 1 million Google search results and found that “topically relevant” content significantly outperforms content that doesn’t go in-depth on a single topic.

Keep things relevant and aim to solve a single problem with each piece (or within each section of the piece).

How To Effectively Combine SEO & Content Marketing

Brian Clark from MarketingLand said it well, “The smart way to practice effective online marketing is to treat social media and search engine results as aspects of a holistic strategy that centers around compelling content”.

We’re creating content for people, not Google, however we can still utilize some effective SEO techniques to help us reach a larger audience.

It’s important that we do our research and pay attention to search data. In order to get ideas for your content, make sure to utilize:

Using these 3 tools, we can find the most important topics to talk about. We no longer need to stuff our articles full of keywords, Google is now smart enough to recognize synonyms and related keywords. This means you can write naturally for your site visitors and still rank for topics bringing in traffic.

Keep your eyes and ears open for trends, they might not show up in any tools until it’s too late. Pokemon GO is a great example of a trend, it gained worldwide popularity in a short period of time and quickly became the most used app in the app store.

By the time Google and various keyword tools picked up how much search volume it was getting, the hype was already starting to pass. The best way to stay on top of trends is through Twitter and Google Trends.

You should have some topics to use by now, so let’s talk about our strategy. When we’re talking about combining our SEO and content marketing strategies, our main focus is content optimization and backlinks.

Google chooses to rank a page based primarily off of two factors:

  1. The actual words on the page
  2. Other websites linking the page.

So what exactly do we optimize to improve our rankings? Well, it’s important to make sure the keyword (or a synonym) is present in several places:

  1. The content title
  2. The first sentence of the first paragraph
  3. At least one of your headings within the content
  4. The actual page URL
  5. The page’s meta description
  6. The alternate text field for any images on the page

The search engine has to know what your piece is about in order to rank you for the right keywords. These guidelines ensure that search engines understand what your content is about. From there, you only need to worry about solving your reader’s problems, meaning you should write like search engines don’t even exist.

If you use WordPress, I recommend using the Yoast SEO Plugin. This will show you exactly how SEO-friendly your content is. It tells you when you’re good to go, when the content needs some work, and when you’re completely off.

When this article from CMI is run through Yoast, we get the following results:

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In the end, Yoast will help you create more digestible content for your readers.

Creating evergreen content that’s easy to digest is a top priority. When we talk about evergreen content, we’re referring to content that’s timeless.

It should provide just as much value in the future as it does today. The only exception is when we’re talking about trends and short-term endeavors.

Try asking yourself the following questions:

“Will this content be interesting in 6 months? What about in 6 years?”

If you answered no, you should consider revising the content to make it future-proof. We want our content to be assets that continue to grow as time goes on. Evergreen content continues to bring both you and your readers value forever, that’s the beauty of it.

The way your content is presented is extremely important, make sure to focus on the efficiency, accuracy, and tone in each piece of content you create.

All of this is important for acquiring natural backlinks for your content. When other websites link out to our content piece, its value increases, and so do its rankings. The more authoritative the website that linked out to us, the more powerful the link. Evergreen content gets shared, and when your content is shared, naturally you earn backlinks.

We’ll also need to reach out to important blogs and websites relevant to the content we created.

The more amplification we give to our content, the more compounding growth it will provide.

That means if Bob has $100 for promotion, and Suzy has $1,000, Suzy can achieve more than 10x the results even though she’s only spending 10x the amount.

We should spend just as much time and resources promoting the piece as we  do creating it. After all, what good is content without any readers?

When we combine exceptional content, on-page optimization techniques, and an off-page link building strategy, we set ourselves up for success.

SEO & Content Marketing Have Their Differences

Even though SEO and content marketing overlap, there are still parts of both that remain separated. Technical SEO focuses on the on-page factors of your website and how Google reads your content.

Google needs to know what your pages are about so they know what keywords to rank you for. In the past, people would oversaturate their content with keywords (or often times a single keyword) they wanted to rank for.

Nowadays, Google is smart enough to detect keyword variations and synonyms, so content flows smoother and doesn’t look forced. This gets us thinking more about what our audience wants and less what we think the Google spiders want.

We then have the off-page portion of SEO. This refers to the inbound links from other websites pointing at your website or piece of content. Inbound links still play a huge role in determining where your website sits in the search results.

In fact, if we look at this study from backlinko.com, we see that backlink quantity is the number one ranking factor within organic search:

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That being said, we also need to pay attention to the quality of our links.

If the link is within a relevant content piece on an authoritative website or thought leader blog, it’s going to be far more impactful than a link in your signature in an unrelated forum.

Aligning Our SEO & Content Marketing Strategies

It’s important that our SEO and our content marketing goals are aligned.

Liraz Postan, the SEO Manager at Outbrain made a list that tells you where your focus should be when aligning your strategies:

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Create your content based on the goals of the piece, the target audience and the problem you’re looking to solve.

I like to do SEO research after creating the content and I alter the post and section titles based on my findings.

Ahrefs is great for researching keywords and looking at competitors.

If you find that one keyword variation has significantly more volume and the same competition, it’s certainly ideal to use this within the post title.

We should also look at long-tail keywords and suggested keywords from Google to use as section titles within our post.

Doing this increases our chance to rank for these keywords, and helps us to better answer the questions people are asking within search.

It’s important to note that long-tail keywords now account for about 70% of search traffic.

longtails

We have to thoroughly understand the problems of our audience in order to offer them a solution. More often than not, long-tail keywords drive higher quality traffic than broader high volume keywords.

Here’s an example.

If you were an agency offering SEO services, and you were based out of Texas, would you prefer a #1 ranking for “seo services” or “seo agency in texas”?

Hopefully you answered “seo agency in texas”.

Why?

Well, if the search is very specific, it indicates that the person knows what they’re looking for. They are most likely further down the funnel already.

When someone searches for “seo services”, they could live anywhere in the world, and they may be looking for cheap services that cost far less than anything an agency could offer.

In fact, they’re probably just looking to better understand various types of SEO services people offer. The #1 organic ranking for “seo services” is held by Moz:

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Even though this keyword isn’t extremely targeted, they have found a way to pick up a large portion of this traffic. You need to be clever with your content if you want to pick up rankings for keywords like this.

Here’s a clever video of SEO and content marketing at couples therapy, I got a kick out of this one:

The way people search for information online is changing every day. Instead of doing endless keyword research to figure out your next topic, try observing and engaging with your target audience.

If we pick our topics based solely off of keyword research, it’s far less likely that we’ll solve our audience’s most pressing problems. A keyword might look good on paper, but you need to do your due dilligence to make sure it’s worth the effort of securing a top ranking.

Just because a keyword brings in traffic doesn’t mean it will convert to anything meaningful. A search phrase with 500 searches per month could easily outperform a keyword with 10,000 searches per month.

This is why it’s important to engage with your audience as much as possible and really get into their minds. I recommend finding unique ways to survey them, it’s one of the most effective techniques within marketing.

Even so, surveys are extremely underutilized by marketers. Only the top dogs really incorporate it into their strategy. Take that as a sign. If large brands and successful marketers are doing it, it’s probably working.

Creating 10x Content For Our Audience

You may be wondering, what is 10x content exactly?

When I refer to 10x content, I’m referring to the idea of creating content that is 10 times better than the current top content on any given topic.

Here are the top 10 results for the keyword “seo checklist 2016”.

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We can see that people are clearly optimizing for this keyword, but is the content on their page any good? Let’s take a look at the #1 result from ClickMinded titled “The Insanely Powerful 2016 SEO Checklist”.

With a #1 ranking and hundreds of shares across every social platform, they must be doing something right. The piece clocks in at about 1100 words in total. That’s fine, however, it’s a perfect example displaying how word count doesn’t always matter.

So why are they ranking so high?

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As you can see, they’ve created an interactive checklist for their audience. In the past, Google wouldn’t be able to recognize this as something to value above more traditional written content.

Google likes pages that encourage user engagement, and that’s exactly what’s going on here. Towards the bottom, they also have a video.

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Even though this video is primarily used to bring you further down the funnel and sell you their services, Google gives them points for having it.

This goes to show that creating content with multiple types of media is now more important than ever. Using plenty of images is a no-brainer, but experimenting with video should be at the top of your priority list going forward.

In the same way search is changing, the way people consume content is also changing.

Take a look at this infographic made by HighQ. We can see that:

  • By 2017, online video will account for 74% of all web traffic.
  • 96% of B2B companies are planning to use video in their content marketing over the next year.
  • When marketers included a video in an email, the click-through rate increased by 200-300%.
  • 52% of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the best type of content with the best ROI.

Just look at Gary Vaynerchuk, he’s built an extremely large brand due to his video content. When you combine traditional SEO with exceptional video content, great things happen.

It’s still important that you figure out what content types work best for the specific audience you’re targeting. Typically, a combination of several content types and several different mediums is necessary to really dominate a niche.

I have a few guidelines you can follow. These will help you consistently create 10x content, or at least content that is far better than what you typically produce.

  1. Your content must be well designed, and look good on every device.
  2. It must function perfectly on every device.
  3. The content should be trustworthy, useful, entertaining, and well-written.
  4. It should be significantly different than content already out there on the same subject. That means providing new information in a way that better serves the visitor.
  5. Try to elicit an emotional response with everything you create. If I feel surprised, shocked, enthusiastic, anticipation, or admiration from your content, I’m likely to share it with someone else and follow your work.
  6. Aim to solve a problem. Offer a unique solution backed by credible sources or hands-on experience. People should feel like a better version of themselves after consuming your content.

If you’re successful in even just a few of these things, you’re already ahead of the pack. If you can pull off all of them, you can create 10x content.

The only way to get good at this is by doing it repeatedly. Your first attempt at creating an exceptional content piece usually won’t end well.

But that’s completely okay. You should expect to try 7-8 times before something really pops. The reality is, everyone is trying to create “the best” content. We’re all reverse engineering those at the top and trying to beat them.

Naturally, those with more experience and resources will prevail. That’s why you must consistently train the content-producing muscle in order to really excel.

People look for the easy way out. People don’t like to commit 10 hours to a single piece of content. People are afraid that their content will fall flat on its face.

Use this to your advantage.

Put in the effort and don’t worry about how many shares your new post gets. Fear of failure is actually the #1 reason for failure. After you’ve done this 20-30 times, you’ll develop a sixth sense.

This sixth sense will allow you to think outside the box. You won’t sit there wondering “how should I present this information?” or “what medium should I use?”.

Stay persistent and you’ll be churning out 10x content in no time.

Content Types That Work Best With SEO

There’s an endless amount of different ways to present content. How do we know what to choose? First, it’s important to think about who will be consuming the content we’re creating.

  • What is the searcher’s intent?
  • Are they ready to buy?
  • Are they looking to compare prices between companies?

If we know these things from the start, the creation process will go much smoother and the end results will be far superior. Look at industry leaders and see what types of content they’re creating. Look at how people are engaging with those different types of content.

Doing this will give you a good feel about which content is performing well and offering the most value to visitors. Let’s look at the different types of content we can create:

  1. Traditional blog posts
  2. Short-form content pieces
  3. Long-form content pieces
  4. Photo / image gallery
  5. In-depth lists
  6. Branded tools
  7. Multi-page resource guide
  8. Visualized data / study
  9. Video

There are far more, but let’s focus on the top-performers so we don’t get lost trying to create to many different types of content.

Even though we want to provide content in every form our audience is consuming, we should become experts in only a few of them.

It’s impossible to be the best at everything, so try nailing down long-form content and video for example. Your audience will start to recognize that these are your specialty and you will become their go-to resource for these types of content.

Keep in mind that Google shows different types of content for each keyword. One keyword might display images and videos above articles, while another may disregard video completely. Some keywords display news results, in which case you’d want a short or long-form written piece.

If Google is showing an instant answer, maybe you should think about creating an in-depth guide that answers multiple questions on the topic.

We also need to think about the influencers of our target audience, our content should be catered towards them as well. Think about which devices they use, where they are looking for answers, and which platforms they like to share content on.

If they prefer formats you have never worked with, it might be time to do some research and begin trying new things. While expertise is important, so is keeping up with technology.

Don’t let a lack of expertise stop you from trying new content formats, or from entering a new sector within your industry. That being said, don’t use a format just because it’s brand new.

If your target audience isn’t using it, stay away for now. It’s okay to do some research and learn about the format for the future, but don’t go shoving it down the throats of your visitors.

Conclusion

I think it’s become quite clear that SEO and content marketing now completely intersect. The idea of calling yourself a content marketer without knowing the first thing about SEO, or vice versa, shouldn’t happen.

They need each other, so it’s important that you grasp the core concepts and techniques behind each. Entrepreneurs especially need to be multi-talented individuals to succeed.

If you’re working for a large company, it’s likely that your role is quite specific, so you may only need to know technical SEO for example.

It would be nice to see SEO and content marketing roles become more integrated in the future.

SEO alone is important. Content marketing alone is important. When combined, they’re a force to be reckoned with.

Need some creative content ideas? These 38+ examples of brands doing great content should get the creative juices flowing.

I’d love to hear what you all think about the future of SEO and content marketing, leave a comment below!