This is a guest post from Sydney Go. Sydney is a content marketing manager at Animalz, and previously was a content marketer at Acadium (formerly GenM). She oversees social media, created SEO guidelines, and managed their ambassador program.
Getting a process down for writing articles is key to maintaining consistent quality, especially in a growing content team. I’ve seen this first-hand with companies and individual marketers; I’ve written for multiple blogs and helped content marketers around the world optimize their articles.
Here are the guidelines I use for my own team to help us rank and optimize for search.
Here’s some background information before we get into the step-by-step process of optimizing your content for search. These are the requirements I outline for all of my articles.
Headings and subheadings
Headings make your article easier to read for both humans and crawlers.
Your title (main heading) is <h1>, and it should have your main keyword in it. Your subheadings are <h2> to <h6>, which should also be optimized for keywords and secondary keywords.
I suggest having at least 3 headers spread throughout your text and keeping everything structured.
Your articles should be at least 300 words to rank for SEO, but can be longer.
The sweet spot for SEO is 1000 to 2000 words, because you can add in more keywords without stuffing.
All articles should have one main keyword to rank for, which should be mentioned once or twice throughout the text.
Include your main keyword in:
- Meta description
- Alt text on images
You should also identify a few secondary keywords that your articles can rank for to help generate more visibility.
Make sure that you contextualize your posts — this means that you mention concepts that Google deems relevant to the topic that you’re discussing.
For example, when you talk about SEO, make sure that you mention “on-page SEO,” “off-page SEO,” “backlinking,” etc.
Look at the top 3-5 links for the keyword you want to rank for and make a list of important concepts they mention.
Make sure that all those concepts are in your article, as well, and that you add one to two more unique concepts that’ll give it that branded tinge and separate your article from the other top-ranking ones.
Inbound and outbound links
Outbound links go to external websites, and inbound links go to other pages on your own website.
Having outbound links raises ranking on Google, so long as you link to sites with good domain authority.
Make sure that you use the appropriate anchor text for your link. They should be as descriptive as possible and directly relevant to the page you’re linking to. In the sentence “Read more about 2-day fulfillment here” you should link “2-day fulfillment” instead of “here.”
Make sure that you use links only when appropriate. Use at least 2-3 per post, and be wary of stuffing.
Having inbound links helps keep readers on your website, and signals to Google that you have other relevant pages. This is good when you have a high-ranking, authoritative page that can link to other less-known pages on your website.
Include at least one link to your own website or landing page to drive traffic to.
Tip: Make sure all mentions of your brand link to a relevant page on your website.
Writing style and proofing
If you’re using WordPress, install Yoast SEO to see your Flesch reading score as you write.
Run your article through Grammarly to catch spelling or grammar mistakes.
Have every article reviewed by at least one other team member before it goes live.
On-Page SEO Strategy
This will vary per content type, but generally, this is the format we follow.
Step 1: Look for a topic
Whatever topic you choose, know your target audience, and what stage of awareness they’re in.
For example, if Emma is problem-aware, then you should write about the problem, because that’s likely what she’s searching for. Then, present her with a solution so she becomes solution-aware, and then product-aware.
We can use the strategies below individually or together.
Pain points SEO
Identify pain points that your current users have that you can solve. You can get this information through user stories.
By identifying where you can help, you can tell potential customers that you know what they’re going through and how your brand fits in.
Use these pain points to write relevant articles for specific segments of your target market, based on where they are in the awareness journey.
By going through Quora, you can identify what questions people are asking in your industry, and answer those questions.
If you have a specific topic in mind, you can use Quora to validate that it’s a good topic to write about.
Use Semrush to look for which questions are ranking on Google.
If you already have a specific topic in mind, use Google search to extend your keywords and see which keywords get more traffic.
Compile a list of those keywords and determine which will work best. Look at transactional intent to build content that drives business value.
Answer the Public
Same as Google search, Answer the Public can help you narrow down your topic and choose what to write about specifically.
You can also use Exploding Topics, YouTube and Google suggest, Wikipedia, Reddit, etc.
Step 2: Identify keywords
1. Based on your top, start brainstorming and listing them down as “seed keywords.”
2. Based on your topic, start looking for keywords based on monthly traffic and search difficulty.
Long-tail vs. Short-tail keywords
- Long-tail keywords are more than 2 words long, whereas short-tail keywords are 1-2 words long.
- Long-tail keywords are more specific, whereas short-tail keywords are broader.
- Long-tail keywords are easier to rank for, whereas short-tail keywords are usually more saturated.
- Long-tail keyword searches are more intentional, whereas short-tail keyword searchers are usually just throwing ideas out there.
- Your main keyword should be a long-tail keyword with high user intent.
Make a Google sheet with all of your researched keywords. What you won’t use today, you might be able to use in another article.
The keyword sweet spot has low search difficulty and high monthly traffic.
Look at the average domain authority and number of backlinks per keyword so you can estimate your chances of ranking for that keyword.
Tip: You can use Ubersuggest to find keywords. If you want to dig even deeper, go on Ahrefs and estimate how much monthly traffic we can get from specific keywords.
3. Research SERP features per keyword and contextualize each keyword.
Context around a keyword is more important than search traffic and difficulty.
Google categorizes websites based on what it thinks a website is about and makes it easier for those websites to rank in those categories. For example, if an education site tried to rank for a home cleaning keyword, Google probably wouldn’t show the article.
Search your keyword and look at the first few Google results. Take a look at search intent, and decide if you can make the content better and more relevant. If you see that a keyword has a snippet on top, check out what snippets show up and use the skyscraper technique to try to beat it as the main snippet.
Tip: When you research specific keyword, pay attention to SERP features like snippets, Google My Business listings, images, map results, and the like.
4. Settle on one to two keywords you want to rank for and use those throughout your article.
When you’ve contextualized each keyword, choose one or two that you want to rank.
You can also target a cluster of related keywords. For example,social media agencies in LA, social media agencies in NY, and social media agencies in Washington can all be target keywords in one article.
Step 3: Do more research
After you’ve figured out what your topic is and what keywords you want to rank for, you need to do more research.
Look for existing articles about the topic you want to write about and see what you can add to them to make your article special.
Look at key concepts that each article includes to make sure that your article is as comprehensive as possible.
Make a list of all the relevant information that you need to include in your article so you don’t forget it, including links to potential resources.
Step 4: Start writing
When you’ve outlined all the key concepts, start writing. Always keep in mind your target market and the stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in.
Make sure your title contains your main keyword.
Write out your introduction, then start thinking about your <h2>’s. At least one of your subheadings should also have your main keyword in it.
Link to quality sources for more context and to add credibility.
End your article with a call-to-action, such as a sign up to the mailing list, or a link to learn more.
Step 5: Make it accessible by adding different forms of content
Add videos, infographics, charts, and graphs where you can. Always have alt and meta tags on your photos.
Keep photos small, ideally less than 100kb, to ensure fast loading speeds.
Here are some accessible content tips.
Step 6: Proofread
Run your article through Yoast SEO and Grammarly.
Get a second pair of eyes to look over your work for grammar, tone, and consistency.
Step 7: Post on our blog at an optimal time (to be tested)
Make sure your headings are tagged correctly.
Make sure you choose the right category per post.
Make sure the URL slug is the same as the title, separated by dashes, not underscores.
Set a featured image.
Off-page SEO Strategy
Step 1: Distribute your content
1. Add relevant content to your email newsletter
2. Identify your top channels and prioritize those
For example, my top 3 channels are Quora, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
On Quora, write an in-depth answer based on your blog post, complete with reference links and photos. Link to your article at the end of your Quora-specific answer.
On LinkedIn, make sure you add a short summary of the article and use relevant hashtags.
On Instagram, make sure that you schedule the link to go live in our Link In Bio and use relevant hashtags.
3. Distribute on other relevant channels if you have time
Facebook – You can use similar content as Instagram
Pinterest – infographics do especially well on Pinterest, and it also gives you the chance to rank on Google image search
Reddit – If you can find a good community who’ll like your content, Reddit can be a gamechanger
YouTube – Podcasts and videos should always be posted to YouTube
Mix.com – This is an aggregator, so you can add your link once and have it distributed
Step 2: Get backlinks
Broken link technique
Look for relevant domains, and then check their blog for broken links that lead to a 404 error page. Offering suggestions to replace those links is a great way to get backlinks. This is called broken link building.
The skyscraper technique essentially means you take an article and improve it. This is usually used to get backlinks by identifying an article relevant to your niche that gets a lot of backlinks, and then creating a 10x version.
Some questions to ask, to determine whether you can create a better version of a top-ranking article:
- Is the information dated?
- Is there information missing?
- Do you have proprietary data that would be relevant?
- Has anything changed since the article has been published?
- Do you have a unique POV on the same topic?
If you can create a better article, check which keywords the original article is ranking for and target them. Then, look at who links to the original article and start reaching out to offer yours instead.
There are two main kinds of partnerships content marketers typically use; Guest posting and newsletter partnerships.
Email newsletter swap: Look for websites with the same target market and reach out and propose a newsletter partnership or swap. For example, ask if they can send one of your articles to their subscribers every month in exchange for you doing the same.
Guest post exchanges: Look for websites with a good amount of monthly visits (you can use the Similarweb plugin to do this). Start with websites that have a similar profile to yours, then work up. Reach out to offer a guest post or article exchange, where you write an article for their blog and vice versa.
Other things to think about
When you choose a keyword, search intent is something that you need to keep at the back of your mind. Different words can signify a user’s search intent, and you should choose a keyword based on search intent, not just search volume.
For example, someone who searches “digital marketing” probably just wants to know what digital marketing is. Someone who searches, “how to learn digital marketing” or “digital marketing courses” wants to put effort into knowing more about digital marketing beyond just basic knowledge. Someone who searches “digital marketing career” or “digital marketing jobs” is probably looking for jobs in the area.
When you’re looking for backlink opportunities, make sure to check site authority. As a quick tip, domain authority is important, but getting relevant links should be your priority.
You should also look at domain authority when choosing your sources. Ideally, you would only link out to reliable and credible websites. If you must link to a website with low domain authority, I suggest adding a rel = nofollow tag to make sure that Google doesn’t index that page and that it doesn’t associate it with our post.
When you’ve written two or three specific blog posts that are all related (e.g. Instagram marketing tactics, Pinterest marketing tactics, Facebook marketing tactics), your next step should be writing a pillar post.
A pillar post is a comprehensive article, or it could even be a webpage, that dies multiple topics together under one umbrella. It’s a good way to connect all of the content you’ve created about relevant or adjacent topics.
A pillar post also allows you to rank for broader search terms (e.g. social media marketing vs. Instagram marketing), which will likely earn more traffic that you can redirect to your other pages.
Blog posts are about providing value. Look for other ways you can increase that value. Add a free downloadable guide, easy-to-use-templates, or offer membership to your Slack community when someone subscribes to your newsletter. Brainstorm different ways you can help out your target audience even more.
There are plenty of tools out there that’ll help you research, create, and distribute your content. Here’s a short list.
Ahrefs – Analyze and build backlinks, research keywords and topics, and monitor content performance. SEO toolbar Chrome and Firefox extensions available
Answer the Public – Discover search intent and what content to include for specific keywords
BuzzStream – Manage our linkbuilding outreach with contact discovery, mass outreach, and an Ahrefs integration
Clearscope – Content optimization software, with suggested keywords and length
Exploding Topics – Discover topics and trends to write about
Google Analytics – Monitor your content metrics
Google Keyword Planner – Research and select keywords
Google Search Bar – Use the pre-populated search results as a keyword extender
Google Search Console – Monitor your website and content metrics
Google Tag Manager – Manage your tags without code
Hunter.io – Find emails, also available as a Chrome extension
Lighthouse – Analyze your website performance
Lumen5 – For quick and easy video creation
Semrush – Research competitors, SEO opportunities, and analyze PPC
SEO PowerSuite – Keyword research, link analysis, and monitor your rankings
SimilarWeb toolbar extension – To check a website’s monthly traffic, backlinks, and keywords that drive traffic
SurferSEO – A web-based optimization tool that provides tips and keyword suggestions
Ubersuggest – For site audits, competitor research, and keyword research
Yoast SEO – A WordPress plugin that guides on-page optimization as you write