Sorry, But I Can’t “Add SEO” To Your Weak Content

December 18, 2018

Female office worker sitting at conference room table and taking notes with pen and paper

Editor's Note: This post was contributed by Gaetano DiNardi, Director of Demand Generation @ Nextiva. 

SEO has gone from cryptic to crucial. Google alone processes more than 3.5 billion queries per day. Time and time again, I see it - yet another startup trying to make noise in the content arena. They start spewing out dozens of mediocre blog posts day after day, week after week, month after month. All they end up doing is adding more dead weight to the internet indexes. Why? Because they lack the ability to understand what it takes to build great content for both humans and search engines.

How SEO Used To Work

In the past, all you had to do was get an entry level blog editor to craft average quality content, (usually by means of managing a bunch of outsourced writers), then build a ton of mediocre backlinks to that content, and it would rank in the search engines.

Those days are gone. Dinosaur SEO tactics are long retired. You can no longer plan an SEO campaign without having a front seat to the entire content planning process. In every practical sense, content marketing involves SEO, and SEO involves content.

How SEO Works in 2018

Since Google’s infamous rankbrain algorithm shift, content that effectively meets a searcher’s expectations will have a higher chance of outperforming content that doesn’t align well to a searcher’s intent.

In the past, a well optimized page with tons of links and strong domain authority would likely be the victor, even if it did not meet a searcher’s intent.

Today, it’s all about the searcher’s experience when they land on a page. Brand authority can also heavily influence results. For example, if I search “sneaker cleaning tips” and I click on a result from Nike, I am likely going to trust the information on that page, more-so than information from an unknown vendor.

In short, you can add all the SEO you want to any piece of content, but if users don’t engage with it you pretty much have no chance of ranking highly in search engines.

Engagement metrics that Google looks at:

  • Average time on page
  • Scroll depth percentage
  • Click through rate
  • Pogo sticking or bounce rate (Do searchers press the “back” button on the browser and click on other results?)

With search engines — especially Google — giving more premium real estate to quality content, keeping SEO and content planning separate will likely lead to a debacle in two siloed departments.

Which brings us to the bottom line: only through shared goals and a unified strategy between SEO, content development, and user experience can businesses achieve sustainable and profitable headway into the digital economy.

Why I Can’t “Add SEO” to Your Crappy Content

While I was consulting for various clients, and even working in-house, content/editorial teams have come to me asking:

"Hey Gaetano, can you 'add SEO' to this landing page?"

I just shake my head. Here’s the problem:

It’s likely that this low-quality content has already spent weeks polluting the internet and making the few visitors duped into checking it out highly frustrated. Once a web page has a long history of malperformance, it’s difficult to turn it around.

Even more challenging though, is re-engineering a page to align with user intent. Too often I see pages that are pushing heavy sales driven messaging, meanwhile the search intent is higher up the funnel. Automatically, you’re building an experience that is uncomfortable for the visitor, which is likely skyrocketing your bounce rates and therefore hurting your overall page-level engagement.

That means SEO specialists, content creators, UX designers, and broader digital marketing teams must be aligned, aiming for a common goal. Otherwise, disparate strategies for content development and SEO will allow competitors with tighter integration and alignment to eventually win the war.

Lucky for you, I’m about to give a free lecture on how better to approach SEO and content planning.

Which begins here.

Content Quality + User Experience + SEO = Golden Trifecta

Businesses that are committed to ramping up their online reputation, customer experience, website traffic, and revenue should implement SEO as an indispensable part of their content planning and UX design processes.

As such, SEO campaigns, initiatives, and strategy should have the following foundational elements:

  1. A strong understanding of your ideal customer profile, their pain points, and buyer journey
  2. Clear goals and desired outcomes
  3. Set of metrics for assessing SEO performance and success
  4. Comprehensive website audit for UX quality, navigation, taxonomy, and mobile-readiness
  5. Relevant keyword research and opportunity reviews
  6. Roadmap on link building and influencer marketing

In particular, because keywords and content drive SEO as much as the sophisticated algorithms that govern search engines, effective keyword research done in advance should be a persistent element when it comes to content creation and subsequent content marketing efforts.

On-Page SEO Pre-Publishing Checklist

On-page optimization involves the alignment of content with keywords and user intent based on where the user might be in the buyer’s journey.

If you thought I’d really leave you in limbo about “adding SEO to weak content,” here’s my best (and free) shot at helping out.

Below is a checklist of how I would guide startups (and any business really) — from start to finish — on how to optimize a web page for search engines. This checklist forms part of a more comprehensive article on SEO for startups which I’ve published on LinkedIn. You can read the post to learn more about advanced SEO strategies and tactics.

Download this handy checklist to your desktop or print and hang within eyeshot.

  1. Target Keyword: These are words and phrases in your content that make it easier for your target audience to find your site or web page via search engines. Have you identified the primary keyword?

  2. SERP Analysis: Search Engine Results Page Analysis is a process that helps you evaluate search results for a given set of keywords. Among other things, it helps you gauge the level of difficulty and whether it is possible to rank high for a particular keyword. Can you even rank for this?

  3. Title Tag

    1. Front-load your target keyword by including it within the title tags. Have you done this?

    2. The title should contain less than 60 characters so that it displays completely on the search results page.

    3. Can you add buzzwords to increase click-through rate (CTR)?

  4. Meta Description

    1. The content’s meta description, which also appears on the SERP, should contain the target keyword articulated in the language your audience knows or expects.

    2. In addition to keywords, reinforce the meta description with a compelling call to action (CTA) that will help ramp up CTR.

  5. H1 Tag

    1. Your primary heading (H1) tags should be keyword-optimized. Done this?

    2. Populate your secondary and other minor tags with related, secondary keywords.

  6. Body Copy

    1. Ensure that the copy mentions the target keyword in the first 200 words. This is a must.

    2. Craft the content in a way that it retains natural keyword density. Peppering content with too much keywords will compromise quality. On the other hand, very low keyword density won’t help search engines index your content the way you want.  

    3. Your content should also contain LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords. These refer to terms or phrases that are not necessarily synonyms of but are semantically related to the primary keyword.

  7. Content Length: Does the copy comprehensively answer the searcher’s query?

  8. Content Structure: Is the content easily scannable? Are there huge blocks of text that you should partition? Does it have a high degree of readability?

  9. Content Assets: This is the fun part. Can you add videos, images, screenshots, slideshares, or other goodies?

  10. Canonical Tag: Use the canonical tag to tell search engines that a page url is the correct one to prevent problems caused by duplicate content (plugins like Yoast do this automatically).

  11. URL Structure

    1. The url for the specific content should contain the target keyword. Does it?

    2. Does the url have a clear or meaningful taxonomic organization?

    3. Avoid including stop words (such as and, but, etc.) in the url to limit character count. There are reasonable exceptions though.

    4. As recommended by Google, do not include underscores (_) in your url. To truncate phrases, use hyphens (-) instead.

    5. Should be less than 100 characters. Have you done this?

  12. Internal Linking 

    1. Your copy should contains at least one to two deep links to relevant content. Be sure to do this.

    2. Use a relevant keyword as anchor text for the linked content.

    3. Ensure that this is done in a natural context, neither spammy nor repetitive.

  13. Outbound Linking: Your copy should acknowledge external authoritative or relevant sites via a link or two. Have you done this?

  14. Image Optimization

    1. Even images included in the copy should be optimized for SEO. Therefore, ensure that their file names contain the target keyword.

    2. Alt tags should also contain the target keyword.

    3. The appropriate image dimensions should be specified for proper indexing.

  15. Social Metadata

    1. Be sure to optimize Facebook Open Graph meta tags. Among other things, these are tags that allow you to control which content shows up on Facebook when a page is shared on the network.

    2. In the same manner, optimize Twitter cards.

Conclusion

So how important is the alignment between content planning and search engine optimization? Extremely. Inseparable.

Google — which controls nearly 80% of the search engine market — continues to enhance its algorithms to reward higher quality content and orchestrate better experiences for online searchers.

Don’t forget: SEO creates many entry points for potential customers to discover your brand for the first time. That means brands have an opportunity to positively impact the customer experience from the very first interaction, all thanks to SEO.

Together, a unified and well-formulated strategy that combines SEO and content planning will drive more traffic, improve online reputation, ramp up conversion rates, and hike revenue.

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