The Beginner’s Guide to Integrating SEO with Content Strategy

by Claire Karjalainen

SEO and content marketing. Content marketing and SEO. Two things we all feel like we should be doing or doing better, but we’re either not doing at all or not doing very well (or not doing them very well together).

We talk to a lot of founders, solopreneurs and marketers who say the same things about SEO and content marketing.

“I know I should be doing it.”

“I understand why it’s important, but I don’t have the time right now.”

“We’re just not there yet in terms of our priorities.”

We get it – thinking of creating and implementing a wholesale strategy for either of those efforts can be daunting, much less a strategy integrating SEO with content marketing.

But the thing is, SEO and content marketing are integrated by nature. You don’t have to make huge adjustments to start improving the way they work together on your blog, advertising and more.

As Neil Patel points out in a Kissmetrics post, SEO and content marketing are two parts of the same equation – “SEO makes demands. Content marketing fulfills those demands.”

SEO and Content

SEO and content marketing aren’t independent – they’re like two people working together. Credit: Kissmetrics

A few of the examples of the SEO/content marketing relationship Patel uses include:

  • “SEO states the requirements. Content marketing fulfills them.”
  • “SEO demands content. Content marketing is content.”
  • “SEO demands keywords. Content marketing means using keywords.”
  • “SEO demands linkbacks. Content marketing introduces linkbacks.”
  • “SEO demands onsite technical optimization. Content marketing needs great UX.”

Or, to put it another way: SEO helps you speak the language of machines; content marketing helps you speak to humans.

Canva Graphic_SEO and Content

You need the little signals and SEO touches that help machines and algorithms know how to parse your content, but you need to do it through content marketing that is all about talking to your very human audience.

Can you separate fact from fiction when it comes to SEO? Check out our free resource discussing popular SEO myths!

3 Simple Ways to Start Combining SEO and Content Forces

1. Key Best Practices for Overall SEO Strategy

Let’s start with the way you approach SEO overall. A lot has changed in the way search engines like Google index pages and rank results for certain keyword searches.

Grossly oversimplified, the basic idea of optimizing for search engines is: You create something – a blog post or website page or an offer or a video – and you want people to find your piece of content after they search for certain phrases, right?

Searching for the right phrase tells you that person is interested in exactly what you’re peddling, helping to do a bit of pre-qualification at the all-important top of the funnel.

So one key factor is to spend time creating content that relates to the keyword phrases your customers search for when they’re trying to solve the problem that you solve.

There’s some nuance here, of course. The most important phrases could be super popular, or you might not even be sure which phrases are most important vs. mostly important because you just don’t have enough traffic for good data.

That level of strategy is definitely important and can come later – for now, as a beginner, focus on the idea that you’re spending your time creating things that actually tell your customers about the problems they’ve gone online to research.

Another key idea is the notion that “content is king.” You may have heard that phrase before, and it’s riddled with its own nuances in the world of modern SEO, but for now, it’s enough to internalize this idea: Quality content that people find most helpful gets rewarded over quantity and bad content.

You know bad content when you see it. The kind you’ve read and said, “What a waste of time!” It’s just words poorly-wrapped around keyword stuffing.

Generally speaking, the factors search engine algorithms reward are engagement factors – signals that tell the algorithm, “Hey, people like this content. They spend time reading it, they share it, they link to it – and lots of people are doing this. This content is helpful and useful.”

So keep that big picture in mind as you start to put together your SEO and content strategy, and as you implement more pieces of the puzzle.

2. How to Write with SEO in Mind

Contrary to what you may have been told or read in the past about writing with SEO in mind, you don’t need to stuff your content full of exact-match keyword phrases.

The search algorithms are sophisticated enough now to recognize whether you’re writing a helpful piece about your topic or if you’re just trying to game the system with keyword-stuffing (and they punish you for that!).

For starters, there really isn’t any such thing as “SEO writing” any more. SEO writing is just writing, or content writing, because there should be no discernible difference between writing quality content and writing search engine optimized content – they’re the same!

Writing with SEO in mind mostly means: Are you writing a high-quality, valuable article that will help people solve their problem if they searched for the keyword phrase you had in mind?

You should start with a phrase in mind, but don’t be stuck on that phrase. You can actually be rewarded for using different phrases.

For instance, if your phrase is “best ice cream truck in Denver,” then you can try using variations like “best ice cream in Denver,” “Denver ice cream truck,” “Denver ice cream,” “ice cream truck,” all of which can still help you in terms of SEO.

It’s also much easier to do the most important thing when you’re switching up your phrases: Write naturally. Stilted phrases that were clearly contorted just to accommodate an awkward keyword phrase will stick out like sore thumbs!

3. A Checklist for Individual Posts

So if there’s no such thing as creating content for SEO, then what can you do to make sure each post is still sending up the right “signals” to the search engine?

There’s a bunch of small things you can do for every post. Try creating a checklist to help you make sure that every post is optimized before it publishes.

Keyword Phrase

Keep a keyword phrase in mind as you write (if it helps, jot it down at the top of your post to help you steer your post in that direction). Check your use of the phrase by using a “find” function to see how many times you’ve used it (and variations of it). Shoot for between 3 and 5 direct references. If you find that your phrase is cropping up way more often, it’s probably too broad.

SEO Title and Meta Description

The SEO title is different from your blog post title and headline. This is what appears in a search result, and does not necessarily have to match your actual blog post title. For instance, if your post title is long and full of jokes (or doesn’t contain your keyword phrase clearly), your SEO title could be more succinct and to-the-point.

A meta description is the part that appears under the title and describes the search result to the searcher. This should be clear, concise (under 156 characters so you don’t get cut off!) and contain a variation on the keyword phrase.

For example, in the meta description below for our Audience Ops post “Hiring Professional Content Writers vs. Subject Matter Experts,” you can see that “professional writers” and “subject matter experts” appear in different parts of the description, so they do not have to match the search phrase verbatim:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 3.55.10 PM

Alt-Text on Images

Google and other search engines can’t “read” images. You need to embed the right signals in your images to help Google read them. All images you put into your blog post or website will have an option to add alternative text or “alt-text.”

This alt-text displays if for some reason an image can’t be loaded, and it also is what Google will “read” the image as.

For instance, in the example below, a search for Audience Ops’ logo returns a result where the alt-text is “audience ops,” telling Google what the image is so it knows to return it as a search result:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 4.07.45 PM

Use a Plugin to Do it All

If you’re not keen on parsing your own CSS or having to keep track of how well you’re “scoring” on all the various post-level SEO indicators, you can use a plugin to do it all for you.

The Yoast SEO plugin is the industry standard. It provides you a simple place beneath every single blog post (and at the website-level as well) to record all this information for the search engines.

It’ll even show you a progress bar as you’re typing that turns green when you’re in the “sweet spot” for the length of your title and meta description.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 11.52.25 PM

It also helps to “score” your overall optimization for each post, giving you helpful hints as to why you might not be getting a “green” indicator.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 11.52.42 PM

This plugin is a highly useful addition to your WordPress site, and makes optimizing your blog posts for search engines simple and less-disruptive for your writing process.

Still think a ton of backlinks = better search ranking? Think again! And pick up our free guide to SEO myths you can stop worrying about right now.

Leveling Up Your SEO Game

Of course, this is all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to optimizing your content with the right “signals” for search engine algorithms.

Taking a deep dive into the relationship of SEO to content marketing will take you through things like long-tail keyword strategy, cornerstone content, quality linkbacks and guest posting, and more.

You can use tools like Google Trends, BuzzSumo and Google Keyword Tool to inform your keyword strategy, and really dig into analytics from Google Webmaster Tools to see what people are searching before they arrive at your site.

But for now, if you’re just starting out, remember: Useful content wins, and quality beats everything else!

There’s no big secret to getting started integrating SEO with content marketing. Just make a few small adjustments to your website and process, and continue creating high-quality, well-promoted content.

Interested in getting started with content strategy and high-quality content? Talk to us about how we can do everything in this post for you!