Written by Michael Peggs - December 28, 2016
Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit, delivered a rather apt interpretation of the current state of content marketing, saying, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
However, it’s harder than ever for brands to reach consumers. There’s a lot of noise and marketers are clawing tooth and nail for attention from their target audiences. It’s simply not enough to create compelling content – you must be noticed. And Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the best ways to increase your discoverability.
To succeed in the modern age of marketing, you must develop a content marketing strategy that incorporates SEO.
Content and SEO go hand in hand, and for good reason: Content quality and links back are the two most important factors, out of more than 250, in Google’s super-secret algorithm that determines search result rankings. By using SEO best practices, your blog posts, infographics, white papers, and webinars will be ranked at the very top of search engines. This will lead to more people finding and sharing your content – which will further ensure that your brand is highly ranked.
A June 2015 study found that 89% of marketers worldwide experienced success with SEO in the areas of search rankings, traffic improvement, and leads.
Given that rate, it’s not surprising that most businesses are employing content marketing: 89% of B2B organizations, according to the Content Marketing Institute.
If you’re interested in optimizing your existing content and driving new readers to your website, here are some actionable tips you can use to improve your content’s reach. While search algorithms are always changing, these best practices have been time-tested and proven to lay a strong foundation for SEO.
Include 1 Primary Keyword and 2-3 Secondary Keywords on Each Page
The foundation for strong SEO is still about utilizing effective keywords in the right places – that hasn’t changed much. Each page of your website should focus on one primary keyword or phrase, as well as two or three secondary keywords placed organically within your content flow.
A page promoting a shampoo for dry scalp:
- Primary Keyword: “shampoo”
- Secondary Keyword(s): “best shampoo for dry scalp” “dandruff shampoo”
Selecting appropriate keywords requires channeling the mindset of your consumers. Ask yourself, “What terms will users type into a search query to reach my page?” There are a number of keyword research tools, including SEMRush and Google AdWords Keyword Planner, to help find the right keywords.
Include the Primary Keyword in Your Title Tag (i.e. Your Page Title)
Meta tags provide a crucial first impression to search engine crawlers and can determine whether or not a user clicks on your search listing. There are many different types of meta tags hidden within the HTML of your website and, if you’re using common website builders like WordPress, Wix, or Weebly, the good news is you’ll never have to play around with the actual code. It’s quite easy to access and update the many meta tags, but you’ll want to begin with the most important meta tag: the title tag, which is essentially your page title. The title tag lives at the top of your search listing, often becoming the first thing a user reads on Google, Bing, and Yahoo. For that reason, you should include the primary keyword as close to the beginning of the title tag as possible.
Limit Your Title Tag to 70 Characters
Title tags need to fit within a defined space. You don’t want your title trailing off into a “…” or else it could leave out pertinent information about your landing page. A general rule is to limit your title tag to 70 characters – or half the length of a Tweet, if that’s easier to remember. In our shampoo example up above, you’ll notice that Head & Shoulders leads their title tag with a focus keyword, followed by their brand name.
Include Primary Keyword and 2-3 Target Keywords in the Description Tag
Think of your description tag like a sales pitch for that page. It’s your opportunity to provide the best summary of your content, in an attention-grabbing, concise manner, while also utilizing appropriate keywords.
Like before, keyword density is critical. If you infuse too many keywords, your description tag will look like spam and turn potential users away from your website. Make sure to limit yourself to 1-2 primary keywords, and 2-3 additional keywords you’re targeting. By doing this, you’ll show readers that you’re offering valuable information and not just trying to game the system and appear as the top search result.
Limit Your Description Tag to 155 Characters
You’re allowed 155 characters or less, which means your description tag can be slightly longer than a Tweet. If you exceed the limit, your description might get cut off, resulting in another undesirable “…” on the end.
Here’s an example of both the title tag and the description tag getting cut off on a search engine results page (SERP):
We can gather that this page relates to running, and more specifically, offers tips for running half marathons. A better SEO strategy would adhere to meta tag character limits in order to condense the text and add a clearer call to action. A more effective description tag might be:
“The half marathon is America’s fastest growing race distance. Here are some essential tips to help you run your best time and conquer the race like a pro.”
That comes out to only 153 characters, but it’s still able to articulate the page’s subject matter to searchers.
Include the Primary Keyword in a Custom URL
If you have the ability to customize your URL, leverage it to your advantage. An SEO friendly URL includes your primary keyword or phrase, and has a single dash between each word.
- GOOD: http://www.headandshoulders.com/en-us/shop-products/dandruff-shampoo
- BAD: http://www.headandshoulders.com/en-us/1234738?ref=43
In addition to the SEO benefits, a custom URL is also about cementing your branding and authority. Users will prefer to click on a URL with content-related keywords instead of one with a miscellaneous set of letters and numbers.
Of course, there’s not much you can do for your homepage, but do your best to include at least your primary keyword in the URL of each of your blog post pages.
Create Internal Links
Once you’ve infused the right keywords into each page’s content flow, as well as within your meta tags, it’s time to create links.
Internal links are one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your on-page SEO. The best part is, they can be seamlessly integrated into your site’s design simply by adding a navigation bar.
A navigation bar improves your site’s architecture, “link juice,” and brand authority – all of which are factors taken into account by SEO bots. Outside of the menu bar, you can also link between pages and posts. Adding links from one article to another is a great way to keep visitors engaged and on your site, both of which are search signals in the eyes of Google.
Including your primary keyword in an H1 header tag – essentially, your headline – is also very important. The H1 tag is the first text search engine crawls within the body tags of your page, so it’s important you include the most important words and phrases within the <h1> tag in your HTML.
Link to Credible External Sites
Linking to your own site is nice, but linking to other credible sites is even better. Why? Think of it as an investment. By lending support to other authoritative sites, you are building relationships and associating your content with their brand. In turn, those sites (and others) may return the favor and link to you as your link juice builds.
According to Google, inbound links (also known as backlinks) are one of the most important ranking factors considered by their algorithm. The reason they are given so much weight is because they represent a third party “vote.” If someone is willing to link to your site, it means that your site holds a high value and contains trustworthy content.
Be selective when choosing which sites to link to and monitor the sites linking to you. If you’re haphazardly linking to garbage sites, it won’t help your brand’s reputation or its SEO. The sites should be somewhere within your niche, and also be helpful to your visitors. If Head & Shoulders had an external link to a tech blog, it would, a) confuse its audience, and b) wouldn’t benefit the Head & Shoulders brand. Alternatively, a link to/from a skin care blog is more likely to be viewed favorably by your customers and by Google.
The SEO benefits of your linking efforts won’t be noticeable overnight. When implemented over time, in conjunction with posting high quality content, the results will be quite positive. You’ll improve your search ranking and reputation.
Include Primary Keywords in Images
Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without images, but simply having multiple images on your page isn’t enough. Optimize your images by adding your primary keyword to both the image file name, and alt tags.
- Primary Keyword: shampoo
- <img src=”#” alt=”Head & Shoulders classic clean shampoo”
- <alt=” shampoo-classic”>
- <alt=” dry-scalp-shampoo”>
- <alt=” dandruff-shampoo”>
Always Be Optimizing
While there are near-endless possibilities for what you can do with SEO, these tips should provide you with an actionable foundation that you can apply to each piece of fresh content you produce and improve your rankings.
As we alluded to at the start of this piece, our content is defined by what others are saying about it. To fuel that conversation, we must make our content visible so that it will be shared, linked, and consumed on a mass level. SEO puts this task firmly in our control, allowing us to give our site ranking power through our own actions.
Best of all, SEO offers compounding returns. As your efforts pay off and your site ranks higher, you’ll attract more of the right readers who will share and link to your content – which will further improve your rankings. Over time, search can become a strong source of traffic.
Michael Peggs is the founder of Marccx Media, a digital marketing agency specializing in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Before Marcxx, Peggs worked at Google in business development, forming digital media and advertising partnerships in the United States and Asia. He is also a contributor to The Huffington Post, FastCompany and Business Insider as well as and podcaster, hosting the iTunes Top 10 New & Noteworthy Podcast You University.