The ultimate guide to content SEO
Content SEO is a key part of any SEO strategy. Without content, it’s impossible for your site to rank in search engines. It’s, therefore, crucial to write and structure quality content! This ultimate guide covers the most important areas of content SEO. Read on if you want to learn how to create content that ranks.
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What is content SEO?
Content SEO refers to creating content that helps your web pages to rank high in the search engines. It includes everything, from writing to structuring the content on your website. There are three major elements you need to consider that will make your website rank well: keyword strategy, site structure and copywriting.
Why is content SEO important in the first place? Because search engines like Google read your website, so the words you use determine whether or not your site will rank in their results pages. Of course, your website should be well-designed, with a great user interface, and all the technical stuff that makes your site rank in Google should also be covered. But without quality content your site doesn’t stand a chance in the search engines.
1. Keyword research
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is basically the steps you take to create an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for. Every content SEO strategy should begin with keyword research, because you have to know what your audience is searching for if you want to generate traffic. Keyword research helps you to discover the terms you should be aiming to rank for.
Keyword research has four steps:
- Write down the mission of your business;
- Make a list of all the keywords you want to be found for;
- Look at search intent;
- Create landing pages for these keywords.
If you do your keyword research right, you should have a clear overview of the terms people use and the terms for which you want the pages on your site to be found. This overview will serve as a guide for writing content on your website.
Read more: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »
Why is keyword research so important for SEO content?
Proper keyword research will make clear which search terms your audience uses. This is crucial. At Yoast, we regularly encounter clients who use particular words when talking about their products, while their customers use entirely different words. Writing and optimizing SEO content for words that people don’t use doesn’t make any sense. Doing proper keyword research makes sure that you are using the same words as your target audience, therefore making the effort of optimizing your website worthwhile.
Terms we use in keyword research
Keywords and keyphrases
We tend to use the word ‘keyword‘ all the time. However, it doesn’t have to be just one word. After all, ‘WordPress SEO’ is a keyword, as is ‘Google Analytics plugin.’ So you can have keywords containing multiple words!
The longer (and more specific) a search term is, the easier it will be to rank for that term. Keywords that are more specific (and usually longer) are usually referred to as long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are more specific and focus more on a niche.
How many keywords?
It is very hard to give an exact number of keywords you should focus on. You just need to have a lot – as many as you can come up with. More than 1,000 keywords is probably too many though!
Even if you’re a reasonably small business, you’ll probably end up with a couple of hundred keywords. But you don’t have to create pages for all of these immediately. The great thing about having a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress is that you can gradually add content. Think about what keywords you would like to rank for right away, and which ones aren’t immediately important. Determine what your priorities are and plan the creation of your content.
Head or tail?
Classifying your keywords is essential. Some keywords are very common and competitive (head), while others are long-tail. Decide which are your most critical, high-level keywords – the ones that generate sufficient traffic for your website and best fit your business. You’ll probably only have a few of these general keywords for your business, the rest will be more down the tail. In the next section, we’ll give more in-depth information on long-tail keywords (and the importance of these keywords).
Tip: Make sure your homepage and the pages one level beneath that are optimized for the most common keywords! Content that’s focused on long-tail keywords (and therefore more niche) should be on the tail end of your site.
Keyword intent and search intent
As you’re doing keyword research, it really pays off to think about the search intent of users. Are they looking for information, or do they want to buy something? What is their goal when they enter your keyword as a search term? This goal is otherwise known as keyword intent. For some keywords, it’s pretty clear, like [buy leather sofa], or [how to train your puppy]. But it’s not always that simple.
Four types of intent
There are four types of intent:
- Navigational intent: People want to visit a specific website, but rather than entering the URL, they’re entering a term into a search engine.
- Informational intent: People are trying to find an answer to a particular question or information on a specific topic.
- Commercial intent: People want to buy something in the near future and are doing research before making a purchase.
- Transactional intent: People are looking to buy something after doing their commercial intent searches.
Search engines are always trying to answer the exact needs people have, and they’re getting better at it too. So, put simply, if 95% of the people searching for [change car tire] have informational intent, and you’re optimizing for transactional intent to sell tires, you’re probably not going to rank.
Check the SERPs
You can get a wealth of information from the results pages when you’re doing keyword research. If you want to find out what the intent is of people using your keywords, simply google those keywords and take a good look at the search results. Then, try to create content that answers the specific need that you distill from the results for each keyword. Tip: Read more about how to use the search results to create content for the right intent here.
Keep reading: What is search intent? »
Keyword research tools you can use
There are multiple free and premium tools available to help you with your keyword research. Yoast SEO comes with a Semrush integration that gives suggestions for related keyphrases, including search volume trends. Of course, this is not a full keyword research tool. But it can help you gain valuable insights, and find high-performing keywords! For other tools, please check out our article about keyword research tools.
Adapting your keyword strategy
Your keyword strategy shouldn’t be static. It should change and evolve alongside your company and website. It should evolve and grow with you. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.
Stay on top of the changes in your company, and adapt your strategy simultaneously. If your online shop starts selling new products, extend your list with more keywords. If you’re aiming for new markets, it’s vital that your keywords are aimed at these new markets as well.
There are several keyword strategies to adopt. One of them is to try and rank for long-tail keywords first, then aim at more general keywords. But you could also start by focusing on general keywords before aiming for more long-tail ones. You can zoom in and pursue more niche activities, broaden your approach, adding more content on different things, or you can do both simultaneously.
2. Site structure
The second important aspect of content SEO is the structure of your site. First, I’ll explain why site structure is critical, then I’ll show you what an ideal site structure looks like. I will also give you tips on how to (quickly) improve your site structure without completely disrupting the core of your website.
Why is site structure important for content SEO?
There are two main reasons why site structure is an important ranking factor and therefore imperative for building SEO content:
a. A good structure helps Google ‘understand’ your site
The way your site is structured gives Google significant clues about where to find the most important content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what your site is about, and how easily it will find and index content relevant to your site’s purpose and intent. A good site structure will, therefore, lead to a higher ranking in Google.
By creating such a structure, you can use existing content that has attracted links from others to help your other pages rank too. Your site’s structure will help spread some of that link juice to the other pages on your site. On a commercial site, this means you can use high-quality content you’ve written to boost the search engine rankings of your sales pages too.
b. A good structure makes sure you aren’t competing with your own SEO content
You will probably have multiple articles about similar topics on your site. At Yoast, for example, we write about SEO. If we wrote eight articles about SEO, Google wouldn’t know which one is the most important. That’s why we used our site structure to clarify this. If we hadn’t, we’d be competing with our own articles for Google’s top spot. So if you solve problems like this by using a sound internal linking structure, the result will be higher rankings overall.
The ideal site structure
Ideally, you should structure your site like a pyramid. At the top is your homepage. On your homepage, you link to some other pages (such as category pages). These pages, in turn, link to even more pages.
In an effective content SEO strategy, your keyword strategy and the way you structure your site work together. In a proper keyword strategy, you’ll have thought about common, competitive keywords as well as long-tail (and niche) search terms. You should make a similar dichotomy in your site structure. Pages that focus on common search terms should appear high in your pyramid, while pages that are optimized for long-tail keywords should appear in a lower part of your structure. And don’t forget to let the long-tail pages at the bottom link to the pages higher in the pyramid!
Read on: The ultimate guide to site structure »
Practical tips on improving your site structure
If you’re serious about content SEO, you’ll most likely already have a live website. So it may be a bit late to set up your site’s structure in an ideal pyramid-like way. Don’t despair – there are still plenty of things you can do to improve your site’s structure and your SEO content.
Decide upon cornerstone content
You should focus your efforts on cornerstone articles. These are the articles that you’re most proud of, and that fit the mission of your website best. You want to rank for these articles the most. Fun fact: This ultimate guide is one of our cornerstones!
If you haven’t decided which of your articles are the most important yet, start thinking about that now. Make these articles the best ones on your site. Give them extra TLC and update them regularly.
Keep on reading: What is cornerstone content »
Link from tail to head
Once you’ve decided upon your precious cornerstones, make sure you link from all your ‘tail’ articles to those cornerstones. That way, Google will know which articles to rank highest. You can read all about this in our article about incorporating cornerstones into your site structure. Good to know: Yoast SEO Premium has an advanced internal linking tool that automatically suggests relevant articles to link from.
Pro tip: You can use our cornerstone content SEO workout in Yoast SEO Premium to check on all your cornerstone content pages, see how many internal links they’re getting, and quickly add more if necessary.
Use tags (but not too many)
Your site will also benefit from adding tags. Tags and taxonomies will give your site more structure – at least, Google will understand it better. They group your articles about similar topics. Don’t overdo it, though. Some people have more tags than articles. Using too many tags will lead to a confusing and poorly-structured site.
Avoid duplicate content
The same SEO content can turn up at multiple places on your site. As a reader, you don’t mind: you still get the content you came for. But a search engine has to choose something to show in the search results, as it doesn’t want to show the same content twice. And what about other sites that want to link to your product? Chances are that some of them will link to the first URL, while others will link to the second.
However, if you make sure that all these duplicate posts link to the same URL, your chances of ranking top 10 for the relevant keyword would be much higher. In other words: Canonicalization is the solution to duplicate content. You can configure the canonical URL in the advanced tab of Yoast SEO.
Remove old SEO content
Should you keep old content? That depends. You have three options: update, redirect, or merge. If the content on a page is outdated, remove it! But what about the valuable links to that page? After all, you want to make sure that you still benefit from these links, even though the page doesn’t exist anymore. That’s where the second option comes in: redirect.
Redirecting pages is easy if you have our Yoast SEO Premium plugin, which can help you take care of redirects. Preferably, you redirect the old URL (301) to the new and updated page or product. You can also redirect to a related page if there is no replacement. For example, the category page of the specific product, or, as a very last resort, your homepage. This way, the (outdated) page won’t interfere with your site structure anymore.
Deal with orphaned content
The term ‘orphaned content’ refers to articles that don’t have any links from your other articles or posts. Because of that, these articles are hard to find, both by Google and by your users. What’s more, Google will consider this type of content to be less important! So if an article is important to you, you should make it clear to Google (and your visitors) by linking to that particular article from other (related) content. Read more about solving the problem of orphaned articles in our article about orphaned content.
Pro tip: Use our orphaned content SEO workout in Yoast SEO Premium to quickly find and fix pages with no incoming internal links.
Deal with content cannibalization
Once you’ve been writing content for a while, you might have dozens of articles on any given topic. If these articles are kind of saying the same thing, search engines and users might get confused. Not to mention the fact that your content might compete against itself in the search engines. This is called keyword cannibalization. It’s not inherently bad, but it’s something you need to take a look at. Are your articles performing as well as they should, or is the competition hurting the chances at a higher ranking? Luckily, it’s not hard to find and fix keyword cannibalization.
3. Copywriting for content SEO
The third and final aspect of a successful content SEO strategy is copywriting. Two very important things to remember: Write articles that are attractive to read, and that will make your audience want to stay on your site. However, you shouldn’t forget to make your SEO content attractive for Google. Just don’t go too far by optimizing your content so overtly that it becomes terrible to read. At Yoast, we suggest optimizing your text for search without adversely affecting the originality of your idea or the readability of your text.
Read more: The ultimate guide to SEO copywriting »
Start with an original idea
The first requirement for high-quality copywriting is to write original content. Your post or article should be ‘fresh,’ new, and original. It has to be different from all the other posts and articles that are already on the internet. Plus, it should be content that people want to read.
If you did your keyword research well, you now have a long list of terms that you want to be found for. This list can be a guide for you to choose from. A keyword isn’t necessarily a topic, though. You should make sure to come up with an original idea for your blog post – an idea in which the desired focus keyword has a prominent place.
But don’t worry! Original SEO content doesn’t mean brand new content. Giving your (professional) opinion on a particular topic also counts as original content. Because your personal angle to a story will make your content unique and original. Of course, if your story is completely new, that automatically means it’s original.
Think about your audience
If you want to write original content, you should think about your audience and who they are. Also, ask yourself:
- What do you want to tell your audience?
- What will be the main message of your article?
- Can you tell the purpose of your article?
- What do you want your audience to do after they’ve read your article? (Do you want them to engage, buy your products/service, or read more posts?)
Thinking about these questions will help you to come up with an original idea for your post or article.
Content design and content SEO
Content design is a process that helps you produce content based on actual user needs. It doesn’t just help you figure out what your user wants, but it also focuses on what the user actually needs. Thinking about your content in this way will help you create content in the language and format that your user needs.
However, content design isn’t just a technique to help you produce better content – it’s a new way of thinking about content. If you want to know more about content design, read our post on content design: a great way to make user-centered content.
Copywriting requires readable SEO content
A key requirement for writing high-quality content is to write content that’s easy to read. Readability is important both for your audience and for Google. After all, not only people read your articles but Google does too.
If your text is well structured and clearly written, readers will be able to clearly understand your message. And so will Google! If your main message is clear to Google, your post is far more likely to rank well in the search engines.
Readability is about many factors, such as text structure, sentence length and writing clear paragraphs. You can read all about the importance of readability in this post. For more tips on readability, you can read our post on how to make an article more readable.
Content, context and search intent
As Google is getting smarter, it starts to understand content on sites better — thanks to a lot of developments in the natural language processing sphere, like BERT. It’s no longer just about the number of times a keyword pops on a page. It also takes into account the context of those keywords, like co-occurring terms and phrases, related words and synonyms. On top of that, as mentioned before, Google is able to understand queries of users better: it tries to determine what the search intent of the user is. Are they looking for a product or just information? Which pages fit that intent best?
All these developments mean that you should focus on more than just using your keyword often enough. It means you should also think about the words you use around it: do they make clear what topic you’re discussing? And, do you have the purpose in mind of the post or page you’re creating? Does it just provide information or are you trying to sell something, and does that align with what your users are actually looking for? Yoast SEO Premium lets you optimize your SEO content with synonyms and related keyphrases, making it even easier to add context to your articles.
Keep reading: Blog or vlog, which one is better? »
Optimize content for search engines and readers
The final requirement for writing high-quality content is to make sure the content is optimized for search engines. You want your SEO content to be easily found. Findability has to do with increasing the likelihood Google will pick up your content for the result pages. It’s important that you take this final step after you’ve written an original and readable post.
Yoast SEO helps you tweak your text just a little bit more. If you’ve written your article, focused on that original idea, and optimized the readability of your post, you should take a look at the SEO analysis in Yoast SEO. Red and orange bullets indicate which aspects of your findability need a little bit more attention. You don’t need a green bullet for every aspect though, as long as your overall score is good.
Yoast SEO will help you to optimize your snippet preview as well. These tweaks can vastly improve your chances to be picked up by the search engines. Read more about optimizing your post in our article on how to use the content and SEO analysis.
Conclusion on content SEO
Content SEO is such a huge part of SEO. It encompasses every aspect of writing and structuring content on your website. Content SEO is essential. No one will read your content if it’s crappy. Like visitors, Google reads and scans your website text. Google’s algorithm decides the ranking of your site largely based on the content you publish. And we all know content is king. So, you need to write awesome SEO content, focus on the right keywords and structure your website in such a way Google understands it. It’s a lot of work, but it will pay off in the long run.
Read on: Blogging: the ultimate guide »
Find out how SEO fit your content is!
As you’ve learned from this guide, there’s a lot you need to do to keep your site’s content SEO fit. Take this short test and find out if there are some aspects of content SEO you may need to improve!
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