“Content marketing is the new SEO.”
“SEO can’t exist without content.”
“SEO and content marketing are the same thing.”
Most of you have heard plenty of quotes like that. And there’s a lot of truth to them: Content marketing and search engine optimization have always had many similarities. In recent years, the similarities have only increased. In fact, a survey from BrightEdge found that only 3% of marketers believe content marketing and search engine optimization are separate disciplines.
The Convergence of Content & SEO
Yet, if the two disciplines are so similar, why are so many content marketers hesitant to say they’re good at SEO?
We see a lot of overlap between content marketing and SEO when it comes to skills required for their jobs, too. Half of all content marketing jobs require both technical (namely, SEO) and creative skills (frac.tl research).
So if SEO and content marketing are considered to be the same discipline, and 74% of all content marketing jobs require SEO skills… you should know SEO pretty well if you’re a content marketer, right?
Trouble is, a lot of us are kind of cautious about our SEO skills. Sure, we know what a keyword is (duh). And we know that inbound links are important and that it’s important to keep people on our website pages for as long as possible.
But “semantic indexing”? RankBrain? The difference between a 301 and a 302 direct?
But fear not, content marketer! We can help you out. Here are a few resources, big ideas, and explanations that will kick your SEO knowledge up a notch.
1) Good SEO is not all that hard.
Be brave, content marketers. While SEO is definitely something you could study for a lifetime, you can be reasonably well informed about it without getting a degree or spending hours on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines pages.
That said, it would help if you built in some time for SEO continuing education into your life. Here are a few good resources:
- Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Fridays
These are fun, breezy videos featuring Moz founder Rand Fishkin walking you through one SEO topic a week. Many of them are directly related to content marketing. They’re an ideal use of time on a Friday when you might otherwise be burnt out. So grab a coffee, find an empty conference room, and chill with a Whiteboard Friday video. You might even find yourself watching more than one.
- Andy Crestodina and the Orbit Media Studios blog
Andy runs a web development shop, but he’s also a world-class content marketer who knows a ton about search engine optimization. His webinars are particularly good. He writes expressly for content marketers who want to get more SEO-type results. His book, Content Chemistry is worth the read, too.
- The Yoast WordPress plugin
Want to just be told what to do for each page or post before you publish it? Want a specific checklist for that page – and a green light when your page is good enough? Install the Yoast WordPress plugin. It’s about as close to plug and play SEO as you’ll get.
2) Inbound Links Still Matter. A Lot.
You’ve probably heard about how user behavior is critically important to SEO rankings. That’s true, but good old-fashioned inbound links still matter. Which means your content marketing efforts need to include some link building and outreach efforts.
As you probably know, go for quality and not quantity when you do your link building. Never pay for links. Also aim to get “editorial” links, or links within the body of a page. (Hint: Try a tool like BuzzStream for your link building outreach. It’s about 10x better than using a simple spreadsheet.)
And to get links like this, you’ll need to be publishing quality content (of course).
3) 26.8% of total searches online are for Google Image Search.
Really. So don’t ignore images in your content optimization. That means:
- Use images. Many pieces of content are still image-free, and there’s solid data showing that having at least one image on every page will help search rankings.
- Use alt tags. That’s the tag that gives a text description of what the image is. Even if you can’t see the alt tag when you look at a page, it matters a lot. Alt tags are the default text used on Pinterest, for one thing. Alt text is also what’s used as anchor text if the image is linked.
- Use keyword-rich image filenames. This isn’t going to make or break your SEO, but adding sensible keywords to image filenames helps. Heck… if might even help you identify the images you work with.
4) Don’t skip over meta data.
By “meta data”, we mean title tags and meta description tags. They appear near the top of the page in the HTML code that makes up your website pages, but most of us non-coders will see title and description tags in WordPress or whatever content management system/development tool we use.
These are another little bit of code that you can’t see when you look at a page, but they make a major difference in your SEO. Google and other search engines use these tags for clues about what your pages are like for starters, but what we really care about is how these tags look in the search results.
We’ve highlighted the title and meta description areas here just for added clarification. If you’ve ever spent any money on pay per click search advertising, you might recognize this search engine listing for what it is: advertising space. Ad copy.
You need to think of your pages’ titles and descriptions as if they were ad copy. Don’t make them click bait, but do optimize them. Rewriting your title and meta description tags is one of the easiest ways to double or triple your search engine traffic. And it’s free.
If you want a powerful tool to really crush this tactic, check out Brian Dean’s YoRocket tool . It’s built to test and optimize title and meta descriptions for WordPress sites.
5) Keywords still matter.
Oh boy… this one trips up a lot of content marketers. It’s easy to see why. Keywords – static keywords – used to be easy to understand. Basically, the more often you used a given keyword, the better optimized your page was.
This is how we got “keyword stuffing”, and metrics like “keyword density” which is a percentage that measures how often your target keyword appeared in the text. Some freelance writers used to brag about being able to pull off a keyword density of 5-6% or better.
That move would tank your SEO right now. Keyword density and keyword stuffing are no-nos now that Google has gotten smarter.
That’s actually the core thing to understand about the role keywords play in SEO now: Google’s gotten smarter. Where we once used to optimize for static keywords (where “dog” was a different keyword than “dogs”), Google now understands that a “dog” can also be a “puppy” and a “Beagle” and “man’s best friend”.
You need to optimize your pages accordingly, which means you need to include variations on the terms you want to optimize for.
That means keyword research is still super important. But it also means you should write for your human readers, rather than trying to stuff keywords in where a human wouldn’t naturally put them.
If you want a big ole tutorial on how to do keyword research from scratch, here’s a couple of good guides:
- Ahref’s “How To Do Keyword Research in 2017”
- A Moz Whiteboard Friday, “A Step-by-Step Process for Discovering and Prioritizing the Best Keywords”
- Brian Dean’s The Definitive Guide to Keyword Research
Bonus tip: Consider focusing on long tail keywords (keywords with more than three words). They tend to have less competition, and they convert better.
6) Google Analytics is your friend.
If you’re a marketer today, you’ve probably got at least a small streak of data wonk in you. And if that’s true, it’s time you got friendly with Google Analytics.
It might not seem like the most scintillating tool at first, but once you know the basics of Analytics, you’ll have a power tool for optimizing your content.
You’ll also want to get to know Analytics sister tool, Google’s Search Console.
The question is, how to learn these tools? Well, Google has actually made it pretty easy, except that very few people know about their “Google Analytics Academy”.
It’s got hundreds of videos you can watch – for free – to figure out the Analytics maze. There are lots of resources for Google Search Console, too. Even 20 minutes a day of this (even 20 minutes a week) and you’ll know as much as many SEOs do in a few months.
7) Think mobile-first.
There is more traffic from mobile devices than from desktops. That’s been the case since 2015.
So… how mobile-friendly is your content?
Have you run your site through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Tool ? How about Google’s Site Speed Tool, too? Mobile users tend to be especially sensitive to site speeds. Most will bail if your site takes more than two seconds to load.
If you’re wondering what mobile has to do with SEO, know this: Google’s mobile index is now its default index.
In other words, Google is thinking mobile-first. When it evaluates your content, it’s doing so through a mobile-first lens.
Are you doing the same? Do your read your site on your phone? Fill out lead gen forms? Interact with online tools? If those tasks aren’t easy to do on a mobile device, your site is losing visitors.
Don’t let the technical aspects of SEO scare you off. Sure, there are basic things about technical SEO that you need to know. But as a content marketer, you don’t need to go too deep into the weeds with the technical stuff. Just be aware of it, and understand the fundamentals of how technical SEO works.
What is critical is that you understand how search engines are evolving, and how those evolutions affect how your content ranks and how people interact with it. You need to have an understanding of that to get your content found. And it’s worth thirty minutes a week to expand your skills, if only a little bit at a time.
Because without good SEO, you’re losing readers. And readers (and viewers, and listeners) are what content marketing is all about. SEO is just another way to help them find you, and to craft your content around your audience’s needs.