Planning Your Content Strategy: Keywords & SEO

Thus far, we’ve covered how to get started with content marketing and how to generate content ideas. Now it’s time to get your great work the attention it deserves.

As creative folks–artists, if you will–we often take on a fatalistic view towards promoting our work. We assume that good content is good content, and it’ll get found eventually. I my debate this argument with the classic, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Either way, why not just make it easier for people to find, read, and share with a solid Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy? Make Google your best promoter.

Optimizing Your Website for Content Marketing

Keyword Research

Before you start any content creation process, you should do some preliminary keyword research. Make sure that you’re actually getting ready to talk about something folks actually care about and ensure that you’re talking about it in a familiar language.

In SEO speak, make sure you’re targeting the right keyword(s) in your efforts to SEO your content project. (If you’re already creating content or blogging on your website, it can’t hurt to do a keyword audit and re-assess, based on your audience.) Missing your keyword target, is actually a pretty common mistake–people think that someone is googling for “cat training,” but instead they’re searching for “how to train my cat.” Someone who’s looking for that obviously needs as much help as they can get, so you want to make sure your cat training website has at least one page on it titled “how to train my cat” and that phrase is mentioned on your homepage, too.

Lucky for you, keyword research is pretty easy to get started. Here’s a few tips and resources to kick off your keyword research journey:

  •  The most basic keyword research can simply be done by going to Google and looking at the auto-suggest, and then the similar searches at the bottom. Like so:

planning your content strategy

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Search Engine Optimization for WordPress

CMS Systems

(For the full infograph, click here)

WordPress is the top content management system on the planet, beating out the competitors by a fair margin. And while WordPress does come with some out-of-the-box SEO functionality, to really optimize your site, you’ll need to go the extra mile. Here’s some pointers:

  • Use an SEO plugin. The Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, despite its random name, is one of the best available, comes with extensive documentation, and it’s free.
  • Once you’ve got an SEO plugin installed, use it to generate an XML sitemap and submit it to Google Webmaster Tools (this helps Google find pages it might not have otherwise).
  • After that, make sure you’re checking the SEO score and writing a keyword-optimized meta title and description (the title and text preview that shows up in search results) for each new post and page.
  • Use categories and tags for your posts, but do so intelligently. Clearly name them (when it comes to SEO, clarity trumps cleverness), use them to organize your website in a logical way, and don’t use an insane amount of tags (aim for less than 5).

On Page SEO

When it comes to the best practices for on page SEO, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • The title of the post or page: This is easily the most important place for your keywords to be. You can be pretty plain with a lot of page titles, but when it comes to blog post titles, you may need to get creative–clickable titles are not always search engine optimized. This is where a plugin that lets you set a custom meta title and description can come in handy, because normal viewers see one title, but people who are finding you in the search engines will see a slightly different version.
  • The headers: Anything inside H1, H2, H3, etc. tags is going to be considered an important keyword for the page and is typically given more weight by search engine algorithms. Therefore, carefully craft your sub-headings. And I highly recommend the regular use of sub-headings. Headings improve readability; making is easy for your readers to skim your content and still achieve a high-level of comprehension.
  • Keywords throughout the content: This practically goes without saying it, but I’ll say it anyways. The key is not to overdo it to the extent where the content reads as though it was written by a robot with a bad grasp of the English language, because keyword stuffing can actually get you penalized by Google. Just make sure you’re using your keywords, as well as related terms, regularly in posts or pages.
  • Image SEO: All images should have clear filenames and alt-tags. Instead of being named “DCI00937.jpg,” the image should be uploaded as “cat-training-collar.jpg,” for example. Alt tags can be added in WordPress when you upload the image, or by looking at the HTML editor and adding alt=“your text goes here” inside the image tags. Here’s more on image SEO.

SEO is a huge topic–if you want to go deeper, here’s some resources:

I cover all the nuances of SEO in this guide, but hopefully I’ve given you a solid foundation and maybe even encouraged you to learn a little more. Any additional time you devote to learning about SEO will definitely benefit your content marketing. Here are a few of my favorites:

Leveraging the Strength of Your Authors

Whether you’re working with internal authors (employees who write for your blog), outsourcing your writing to and agency or freelance writers, or doing a mix, you’ll want to leverage their existing credibility and network to further your own website.

For one, make sure that all authors are credited by their names, not as “guest author.” This seems like tedious extra effort, but it can make your content rank in search engines when people are looking for more information about your authors.

When you share content from authors, particularly from guest authors, make sure to tag them on your social networks. This notifies the author that you’re talking about their post, and it makes them more likely to share that content with their audience, furthering the reach of your post–exposing your website to new audiences.

And of course, ask them to share it themselves on their networks–there’s no reason they wouldn’t want to!

Deeply Understanding Your Audience

Creating great content doesn’t do any good if your audience doesn’t spot it and want to read it. To do that, you’ll need to understand your audience and show them that you understand.

Here’s the audience questions you’ll want to answer in your content–make sure each piece of content and each page on your website is addressing at least one of them:

Do you understand my problem(s)?

This question goes beyond content marketing, it is a fundamental tenet of marketing and how we make it compelling to consumers.

Keyword research is actually surprisingly helpful here–it can let you show your customer that you know their problem well enough to describe it the way they would. For example, a business owner who’s struggling with local SEO doesn’t care about all the algorithms and jargon, they just want their business to show up in Google and on Google Maps (with the right address, dangit!).

How does your process work and will it work for me?

At the very least, this should be addressed on your “About” page and your “FAQ” page. (Pro tip: FAQ pages are great for SEO!) Past that, this can be addressed in other content (blog posts, white-papers, webinars, etc.).

I know it can be a little scary to talk about your process and the way you do things in public, because it can feel like “giving away the farm” so to speak. Why would people pay for it if they know how you do it? (This concern is less relevant in e-commerce and product-based businesses, but is often a sore point for services and knowledge-based businesses.)

I can assure you, from personal experience, that the opposite is actually true–by talking about your process in great depth, and covering how you’re different from the competition, you’ll separate out the people in your audience who won’t be a good fit for you or your services/products. It’s an extra step of pre-qualification before they even talk to a sales person, and it can be the tipping point that makes a customer decide to go with you over the competition.

Most people are looking for an expert, not looking to become an expert. You’re going to have to convince them of that expertise before they buy anyway. Why not assist that due diligence with your content?

Will you be there if I have problems or questions?

There’s a few pieces that go into this and can turn your website into the go to resource that gets shared, bookmarked, and hence rises it to the top of search engine results:

  • The consistency of your website updates (and to some extent, social media updates). If a potential customer lands on your site, but sees the last blog post was six months ago and that the last tweet was a year ago, it might very well make them wonder if you’re even still in business. This is one reason that it’s important to set a publishing schedule and stick with it.
  • Include a clearly labeled contact page that has instructions on at least two ways to get ahold of your business (two because what if one doesn’t work for some reason?). Make sure to include expected response times so they know when they’ll hear back from you. I shouldn’t have to mention this, but experience tells me it’s necessary–diligently respond to all these calls and emails!
  • Reference customer problems or questions in your blog posts. If you get the same question over and over again, it’s great blog post fodder. If your customers tend to run into a brick wall during one part of the process in working with you, you can write about how you overcome the problem together. Then you can use it to help other customers. What a great way to deliver good customer service and promote the value of your content.

Editorial Planning

How am I supposed to keep all of this organized?

Staying on top of the editorial planning process can be a bear–there’s a lot of moving parts. Luckily, you’ve got a lot of ways to keep organized that can work for teams of any size:

  • Coschedule is a WordPress plugin that can not only help you manage your editorial calendar, it lets you easily schedule social messages from inside WordPress.
  • If all else fails, a trusty spreadsheet can do wonders. You can even store it in the cloud using Google Docs for real-time viewing and collaboration from team members.

How to have effective editorial planning sessions

Once you’ve got a system set up to keep everything organized, you’ll need to create a way for everyone on the team to contribute to the editorial calendar and to actually getting the content out the door on time. Here’s some tips:

  • Have a regular meeting. Meaning, a weekly or monthly meeting to discuss that month’s content and upcoming content. If you leave it up to someone to schedule the meeting each time, they’ll be far more sporadic than if you simply say, “The second Monday of the month, we have an editorial meeting after lunch.” It’ll probably be one of your favorite meetings–content should be fun and some times even a little zany.

  • During these sessions, think about what can drive your content. Not just the audience questions above–you also want to think about external and internal events that can drive content. If a holiday is coming up, that can be the inspiration for content. If your company is coming up on its anniversary, that could be the theme for a month of interviews of your customers spotlighting how long they’ve been around and what inspired them to hire an agency exclusively dedicated to cat advertising.

  • Create a process for both the meeting and for publishing. One of the reasons that meetings tend to be unproductive is because they don’t have a clear process. For example, make sure that going in to the meeting, everyone knows you’ll be doing a postmortem on last month’s content and how it performed, then some brainstorming on upcoming content ideas, then assigning specific pieces of content to specific people. For each type of content your team is creating (blog post, webinar, video, etc.) make sure there’s a clearly documented process so that your employees don’t have to recreate the wheel every time they go to do it, especially if it rotates between team members. This is particularly important if your editorial team is virtual or geographically dispersed.

  • And then, make sure each part of the process is designated to a specific person. This is simple: if nobody has ownership of a task, it doesn’t get done. If Billy thinks that Suzie handles all the blogging, he’s not going to touch any of it–even if Suzie is really just writing the blogs, but needs someone else to edit them and schedule them. Avoid confusion…leave the meeting with a clear understanding of Who’s on First…

(I hope you enjoyed the videos. I had to find some way to keep your attention while I talked about meetings.)

All right! That’s it for this post, and you’ve got plenty of homework.

Here’s a few places to start:

  • Check out the 3 SEO Must-Haves for every web page
  • Do a keyword audit and see what people are actually looking for in regards to your industry’s keywords
  • Identify three places your site’s SEO could be stronger, and task out a plan for improving it using these resources
  • Review all of your content against the audience questions and make sure that every page and post on your website answers at least one of those questions
  • Review your editorial systems and meetings to make sure that things are getting done right and on time, and if they aren’t, go over the above tips to find out why