Your business’ organic search engine rankings have never been more important than now. Digital marketing methods such as Google Ads and social media advertising have become more saturated – and more expensive – than ever before, with the pandemic shifting many traditional brick-and-mortar stores’ activity online. As well as this, changing attitudes to the work/life balance and an acceleration in technology has meant that more people than ever are setting up online businesses, making it even harder for SMEs to stand out from the crowd. This is why concerted efforts on search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing are critical to business survival.
While SEO and content marketing go hand-in-hand, many people confuse the two concepts. Below, we’ll explore the difference between the two, how they work together and what the benefits of using the two techniques in tandem can be for your business.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimisation is the process of enhancing your content and web pages to help them rise up the ranks on search engine pages. However, as algorithms continue to shift and change, SEO has become far more aligned with creating great user experiences (UX), rather than meeting a technical checklist to only appease search engine crawlers.
The ultimate goal of SEO for businesses is to drive quality, high-volume traffic to your website organically, or for free, from search engines. It’s important to match all of your website content with the search queries your users and visitors type into their search engines. By addressing their search terms and answering their questions quickly, you’re likely to drive regular (free!) traffic to your business’ website and content. That means more opportunities for sales, leads and conversions.
While content is crucial to SEO success (more on this later), there are plenty of technical factors that go into creating a website that provides a great experience for search engines and users alike. That means speedy load times, helpful content that addresses user queries and generates backlinks, and clear navigation across the website – as a minimum. This all helps to prove to search engines the quality of your brand and content, giving them the evidence they need to promote your content to their users.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is quite self-explanatory - marketing using content! There are lots of forms of content that can be used to drive traffic to your website, including:
- Website copy (especially relevant for eCommerce stores)
- Social media posts
- Images and infographics
- Video content
- Books or eBooks
- Research, studies, and whitepapers
- Press releases
Content marketing is a ‘pull marketing strategy’. This means that you’re not necessarily paying money to get your content in front of your audience (although, of course, you can do this); you’re bringing your target audience to you by creating content that resonates with them.
To create engaging content that really works, it’s important to create content that’s free from errors – both grammatically and factually – that is consistent in tone and is well-written. Even if you have the best website in the world, search engines are unlikely to boost any content that doesn’t meet these basic criteria.
The ultimate goal of content marketing is to create content that will drive customer action. This doesn’t always mean high-traffic volumes but is more focused on meeting customer needs and getting in front of your target customer at the right moment. There is much more to the art of content marketing, which we’ll continue to uncover in this article.
How do SEO and content marketing work together?
Next up, the important question. Do SEO and content marketing work together?
The answer is yes, they do work together, so let’s take a look at how…
The two different marketing methods actually complement and boost the efforts of the other. For example, great content and poor SEO will lead to a negative outcome, similarly with great SEO and poor content. However, great SEO and great content working together can produce impressive results. So, how can SEO inform your content marketing strategy?
1. Start by thinking about your target audience. What do they want to know, what are they frequently searching for, and how can you address this with your content? This might inspire a single piece of content or a content series such as in the example below.
2. Structures and clarity in your content give you an SEO bonus point! So, you might want to look at structuring a piece of content as follows: Main theme > Sub-themes > Individual content on each sub-theme. While there will be content at each level, the individual pieces are the ones that will use a combination of long-tail and shorter keywords to address the user’s needs. For example, if you are producing apiece of content on marketing:
3. (Main theme) Online marketing strategies
5. (Individual content) How to use and work with individual platforms such as Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn
4. Use search engine data to understand the best form(s) of content to address this keyword or question, as well as best-practice from current industry leaders. For example, if you Google ‘SEO’, you’ll find that this keyword has various forms of content on page one. As well as websites and articles, you’re likely to also see a knowledge panel of related questions close to the top of the page, Google Maps results for relevant local businesses and even the latest news on this topic. By doing this research prior to creating your content, you’ll also be able to understand:
Creating this type of structure and easy-to-navigate content should be part of your UX and SEO strategy, making your website simple and user-friendly. So, by optimising your website to better support and structure your content, your SEO and content marketing strategies will align well.
If you’re still stuck for some topics, look at your own website’s analytics, competitor websites and social platforms or use a tool such as BuzzSumo or Ahrefs to find keywords, synonyms and audience interests. We’ve also put together an article on how to source trendy content marketing ideas, so check this out too. You’ll likely be using some of these tools to inform your SEO strategy already, so replicate the same methods to find content inspiration.
- How your competitors have answered the search query
- Which keywords, synonyms, and long-tail keywords they’ve used
- What word counts have been used in the relevant content – giving you a target of how long or short your own content should be
- Next, ensure that you have SEO-friendly web pages to host your content on. Slow-loading, unresponsive or messy pages will quickly turn off your user, negatively impacting your organic search engine ranking and restricting the reach of your content. These content pages also need to facilitate some of the most important SEO and content marketing factors: clear and legible URLs, space for H1s, H2s and H3s, metadata such as title tags and descriptions, and images with alt tags wherever possible.
- With the research, you’ve done and with your pages now optimised for delivering helpful and relevant content, you can create an engaging piece that is well-structured, well-written and, crucially, meets the answer to a search query. Doing so helps search engines to answer the user’s query quickly, meaning you’re more likely to rise in the organic ranks for the keywords and search terms that you’re trying to target.
Now you’ve created your content, how does it begin to drive SEO success? This is the point where your content marketing strategy now boosts your organic ranking efforts:1. Post the content to your website. Search engines see that you’re adding fresh content to your website, which addresses another key ranking factor: up-to-date information demonstrates that you are relevant.
2. Share this content on your social platforms, on places such as Medium, send it to your subscribers via email and to any relevant forums or groups. This drives user traffic to the piece, showing popularity, but will also create backlinks – links from other websites to your content. This is another crucial ‘trust’ factor that search engines use to gauge the helpfulness and relevancy of your content.
3. Your content then gets picked up by search engines to promote, and you’ll begin to outrank the competition for certain keywords – provided that you’ve met all the right criteria as outlined above. As the traffic to your content increases, search engines will note the popularity of the piece and keep promoting it, creating a snowball effect of organic traffic!
4. Finally, because you’ve created a longer-form piece of content than is available on the other pages of your website, you’ll begin to boost some of your key site metrics such as the average time a user spends on the page and a reduction in bounce rate. Search engines take these metrics into account when calculating whether to promote your website – after all, a high bounce rate and a low average time on page demonstrates a lack of relevancy between the content and what your users are searching for. Content can help improve these metrics, proving to search engines that your website is truly helping its visitors.
This is a quick example of how a single piece of content can reach your target audience and gain SEO ‘points’ at the same time. If you replicate this method across all your content, your website is likely to climb the organic ranks. Remember that the goal of search engines is to simply address user searches fast and accurately, so make sure your content does this.
What are the benefits of using SEO and content marketing together?
To summarise, using these two marketing methods at the same time can be incredibly helpful to widen your brand’s reach. When used together, SEO and content marketing can:
- Produce high-quality, well-researched and well-written content to drive organic traffic
- Drive referral traffic and backlinks from third-party websites through great, useful content
- Demonstrate a relevant and up-to-date website, as well as expertise and authority, by uploading regular, unique, and fresh content
- Address many keywords (short, long-tail keywords and synonyms) within one piece of content
- Meet key SEO on-page must-haves, such as keywords, effective titles, meta descriptions, within your content
Your content marketing and SEO checklist
To create top-performing content every time, use the following checklists before publishing:
Technical SEO checklist:
- Does your website page load quickly?
- Is a structure in place for this piece of content? For example, main topic, sub-theme, and individual pieces?
- Has the navigation on your website been updated to include this?
- Is the page URL clear, and does it include the main keyword of the piece?
- Has the sitemap been updated to include this content (otherwise, search engines might not be able to find it)?
- Does the content still read well on mobile, tablets, laptops, and smaller devices?
- Are all images optimised in the right format and scaled correctly?
Content marketing checklist:
- Does your content meet or exceed the average word count of the competitor pieces on page one of Google?
- Have you set a relevant title tag and meta description for the piece?
- Is your piece structured into H1, H2, H3s?
- Does your piece start with an H1 heading and a short introduction?
- Do your images have alt text and relevant keywords in the file name?
- Has the content been fact-checked?
- Does the content prove your expertise and authority?
- Is the content clear and grammatically correct? (Check Grammarly and Hemingway or other relevant tools to clarify this if you’re unsure)
If your current marketing efforts are focused on either content marketing or SEO, take a step back and consider how you can better align the two. You might have different agencies, people or even tools for each individual marketing technique; in reality, the two go together and complement each other. So, consider both as part of a holistic traffic-generating strategy rather than two separate methods. Remember to bookmark or save this article for the content marketing and SEO checklist, to refer back to each time you’re on the cusp of publishing your next piece of killer content.