How to boost your site traffic with content SEO

Learn how to identify SEO keywords, align your content with those phrases and structure your site for maximum search-visibility.

What is SEO?

SEO is how you tell search engines what your areas of expertise are. It’s also how you encourage Google to rank your website above others with similar expertise.

Before we go much further, it’s probably worth understanding how search engines work. Web literacy is always a good thing and it’s impossible to understand search engine optimisation if you don’t first understand search engines.

This video from Google does a good job of covering the basics. It was produced eight years ago and looks a bit naff, but it sums it up well:

In short, Google’s ‘spiders’ crawl and index the internet. People then search that indexed content for information. Content SEO is how you make sure that:

  • Google’s ‘spiders’ are able to crawl and index your site easily
  • The indexed content matches what your audience is searching for – often called their keywords

In the past, some people would try and ‘fool’ Google by stuffing low-quality content with keywords to generate cheap traffic. Google’s a lot smarter than it used to be. These tactics no longer work and people that employ them are penalised with reduced rankings.

The best way to boost your Google rankings is to regularly publish high-quality, customer-centric, search-optimised content. That’s what content SEO is all about.

How is content SEO different from offsite SEO?

As Matt Cutts mentions in the video above, one of the ways Google ranks pages is by analysing which sites are linking to that domain. In Google’s eyes, a link is like an endorsement from one site to another. The more links your site has, the more trusted and the more valuable its content is. Links from sites with a high level of perceived trust and value carry more weight than links from sites without.

The process of building up these links is often referred to as ‘offsite SEO’ or ‘backlinking’. It can be effective, but it’s really a ‘phase two’ tactic. Phase one is to populate your site with quality, search-optimised content. Google can tell when sites which have rubbish or little content suddenly start getting shady backlinks. It doesn’t like it when this happens. Plus, what’s the point in driving your site up the rankings to get people onto it, if the site they arrive at is pretty much empty?

How is content SEO different from technical SEO?

Like content SEO, technical SEO focuses on what happens on your site. For this reason, the two are often grouped together as on-site SEO. Google doesn’t just analyse your content, it analyses its loading speed and how mobile-friendly the design is. It also analyses its structure, the amount of content duplication and the number of dead pages or 404s.

Basically, it’s trying to determine if the site is well made and whether it will be a good user experience. If it doesn’t think so, your page won’t rank as high.

Why is SEO so important?

Search traffic is ‘high intent’ traffic. By going to Google, searching for information and visiting a site, the user is putting in the legwork. They wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t interested in what you have to offer. For this reason, traffic that comes through search is more valuable than traffic that comes through social or paid media.

Also, if you SEO your site properly, search traffic also grows over time. Unlike social, email or paid, which comes in fits and spurts, search traffic gathers momentum. The higher your search rankings get, the higher you are likely to rank in the future.

In short, SEO can guarantee a reliable stream of high intent traffic which isn’t going to disappear overnight.

Content SEO in four steps

Content SEO is a broad subject. It would take a very long time to master all of the different elements which, when combined, ladder up to perfect onsite and offsite SEO.  In this post, I’ll walk you through the four fundamental steps that make up a strong content SEO strategy:

  • What are my keywords?
  • How will I structure my site?
  • What content am I going to publish?
  • How will I search-optimise that content?

Keyword research: what’s your mission?

The first part of mastering SEO is to think about your business. Reduce your business down to one clear, concise statement. For instance, mine is:

Freelance Bristol B2B content marketing and SEO consultant

Tip: SEO is very competitive and it’s important to figure out what your niche is. Notice how I’ve included my location (Bristol) and particular area of expertise (B2B). Without this, I would be competing with every content marketing and SEO consultant on the planet. Including the word ‘Bristol’ limits the scope to just my area. ‘B2B’ limits it to my sector.

Keyword research: what are your topics?

Now you have your mission statement, you need to consider your customer. If someone wanted to buy what you have to offer, what would they search for?

Use the language your customer would use and think of as many variations as possible. Google AdWords keyword planner tool is a free tool that can be helpful here. Break your mission up and enter it and it will show you similar search terms. Don’t pay too much attention to the search volumes as they’re not reliable.

For instance, my mission was:

Freelance Bristol B2B content marketing and SEO consultant

The core components of that mission are:

  • Freelance
  • Bristol
  • B2B content marketing
  • SEO
  • Consultant

Now think of the key topics that relate to your mission, for instance mine could be:

  • Content marketing
  • Content strategy
  • SEO
  • Digital strategy
  • Copywriting
  • Blogging
  • Email marketing

Now, for each phrase, create a list of possible keywords or search terms. Here’s an example set for ‘content marketing’:

  • What is content marketing?
  • Improve content marketing
  • Content marketing tips
  • Content marketing books
  • Lead generation
  • Demand generation
  • Sales enablement
  • Best B2B content marketing

Tip: people often Google actions or questions rather than blunt phrases. For instance, instead of putting in just SEO they may say ‘improve website SEO’ or ‘what is SEO?’. Include as many of these as you can think of as well.

What are the informational and transactional keywords?

The above list is a good start for enquiries with ‘informational’ intent. Basically, people that are looking for information but aren’t yet ready to make a purchase.

But I don’t want to just give away information. I want to work with people and get paid to do it. So I need to think about keywords with ‘transactional intent’. People that are closer to purchase and are looking for someone with my skills. These keywords would be more specific:

  • Freelance content marketer Bristol
  • Freelance copywriter Bristol
  • Bristol content marketing consultant
  • Bristol B2B content marketing
  • Freelance B2B content marketing Bristol

Tip: notice how I’ve included terms like ‘Bristol’, ‘freelance’ and ‘consultant’. These extra words signal that the searcher has transactional intent, because if you were only looking for information, you wouldn’t need to make those qualifications.

Is keyword research as important as it used to be?

Arguably, keyword research isn’t as important as it used to be. Recent updates to Google’s search algorithms means that exact keyword matching isn’t necessary. Google has become better at understanding the intent behind keywords and as a result relies less on exact phrase matches.

However, I still think it’s a worthwhile exercise. It forces you to consider the keywords that you want to rank for, what the top performing content is and your audience’s search behaviour.

These insights will be important when you’re deciding how to structure your site.

What is the perfect SEO site structure?

A well-organised site structure is vital for SEO. Very often, when I start working with a client, their site structure is chaotic. It has grown organically over time and without consideration. There are lots of similar categories. Or categories that are duplicates of other categories with one word pluralised. Not to mention categories that reappear as tags and again as blog titles.

Search engines hate this. The ideal site structure looks like this:

  • Homepage
  • One category landing page per topic or area of expertise
  • Blog posts closely related to each topic and linking back to your category landing page

How should I pick my topics?

The site structure should align with your list of topics or areas of expertise. Pick the most important topics from the list you made. Avoid any duplicates, they all need to be distinct.

My site is quite focussed – I’m only one person, after all – so I have three topics:

These are very competitive search terms.

There are companies – Yoast, Hubspot, Wordstream and Moz to name a few – that invest a huge amount of time and money in dominating the results. I don’t expect to end up on Google’s front page for these topics anytime soon.

But by systematically creating content around these topics I’m telling Google that I know a lot about them. Over time, my credibility will build. And eventually, when someone searches ‘freelance b2b content marketer Bristol’, I will be able to rank, because I’ve optimised my site for words like ‘Bristol’ and ‘freelance’ and demonstrated expertise in ‘B2B content marketing’.

Tip: ranking for competitive keywords requires a sustained effort and a lot of patience. It’s not going to happen overnight. This is why it’s so important to have a strategy from the very start. Otherwise you inadvertently end up trying to rank for a random collection of keywords that have no relation to your core business. It’s much better to give Google a really clear sense of what you’re trying to rank for from the very start.

How should I plan my SEO content?

As I mentioned earlier, Google is more sophisticated than it used to be. In the age of semantic search, exact keyword matching isn’t as important. Thankfully, this makes SEO content creation less formulaic and more enjoyable than it used to be.

SEO copywriters are no longer as constrained by their keywords. In fact, once you have your site structure in place, you want to create content which is as useful, original and thought-provoking as possible. It’s no good impressing Google but boring everyone else.

This requires off to take off our SEO hat and put on our content marketing hat. Content marketing is all about user-centricity.

The power of content SEO lies it its ability to understand our audience’s needs and interests. But also understand how those needs and interests translate to search behaviour. Once you combine these two things, you’re able to create compelling content which is easy to find.

If you only focus on the content, you can end up creating something amazing which few people see. If you only focus on SEO, you can end up creating something which performs well in search but is really quite dull.

What’s your audience’s intent?

For each of your core topics, ask yourself: what is the audience trying to do? Or where are their knowledge gaps? Think of as many needs, questions, challenges and frustrations as you can. The kinds of things that your audience is likely to go online and Google.

Each of these frustrations is going to become a piece of content. It’s important to make them distinct from one another. Google doesn’t like it when there are loads of more or less identical pieces of content on your site. It struggles to figure out which one to put in its rankings for that keyword.

Don’t double up on keywords

It’s also important to make sure that your blog posts aren’t trying to rank for the same keyword as your landing pages. For instance, if you have a category trying to rank for ‘agile working’, you don’t then want to create fifteen posts that are also trying to rank for ‘agile working’.

You need to find some way of helping Google differentiate these posts and single out the most important. The best way to do this is to shift the focus. The landing page deals with the topic at a macro level. The blog posts deal with it at a micro level. They reference and link back to the category landing page keyword, but they don’t try and rank for it. They have their own keyword which relates semantically back to the category title (or topic).

For example, to return to my agile working example:

  • Landing page: agile working
  • Blog 1: mobile working policy
  • 2: best video conferencing hardware
  • 3: difference between lean and agile
  • 4: what are scrum ceremonies
  • 5: mvp examples

Tip: one of the best ways to come up with these ideas for posts is as a group. Ideally, with a few members of your sales team in the room. Sales teams speak to customers all day long and often have lots of valuable insights into customer’s needs and frustrations.

Why you need to use Yoast

Once you have your list of questions, challenges or frustrations, you’re ready to start creating content. But before you do, do yourself a favour. Get Yoast SEO. And get familiar with how it works.

SEO content creation is another area that has become less of an ordeal over the past few years. Achieving the right keyword density and making sure that your post was optimised for Google’s algorithms used to be a time-consuming, manual process.

Today, plugins such as Yoast take the hassle out of it by scanning your article in the editor and making suggestions based on the ‘focus keyword’ that you have selected. Yoast also assesses the readability of your content (another determining factor for Google’s rankings) and makes suggestions, such as trimming sentence length or using more subheadings.

Once Yoast is giving you the green light, you’re ready to publish. Apparently there are still people out there who don’t use Yoast, although I’m not sure why. I use it every day and I’m still impressed by it.

How should I search-optimise my blog posts?

As I mentioned earlier, the introduction of semantic search has made using exact-match keywords less important. And plugins such as Yoast have made optimising your content for your keywords much easier.

But creating solid SEO content still requires the following:

  • A clear title that aligns with your keywords
  • A tidy URL that aligns with your keywords
  • Good use of subheadings
  • Short sentences and paragraphs
  • A clear written style which Google will be able to interpret
  • Good use of internal and external links
  • Use of imagery and video

I’ve written a post on ‘How to write blog posts that search engines love’ which can talk you through each of these in more detail. The devil really is in the detail with content SEO and if you consistently abide by SEO best practice your rankings will be much, much higher than if you do it your way.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Google’s engineers have designed their algorithms to prioritise what they feel is the best content. The content that performs best does so because it is clearer, more targeted, more useful and better executed than the content which does not.

SEO isn’t about gaming Google into ranking your content higher. It’s about helping Google share the most valuable content around a given subject with their searchers.

Should I use ‘black hat’ SEO tactics?

No. Don’t even bother.

Google engineers are smart people and trying to pull a fast one on them is going to hurt your rankings in the long run. They will find out and your site could be removed from Google’s index altogether.

It can be hard to know what Google frown upon and what is allowed. A good rule of thumb to follow is to ask yourself: am I doing this for Google’s benefit, or the end-user’s?

If you’re doing it purely for Google’s benefit, don’t bother. Even if what you’re doing is fairly harmless, such as stuffing your image alt-tags with keywords. Arguably, this isn’t hurting anyone, but it’s certainly not benefitting the end-user and will get punished.

Need help with your SEO?

If you’re looking for someone to help define your content SEO strategy, feel free to drop me a line anytime using the button below.

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