How to Build an Effective Content SEO Program

On the Voices of Search podcast, Tyson Stockton and Jordan Koene are talking about SEO content and how to form and connect the building blocks that make up a successful SEO content initiative. We’ll be exploring content ownership, strategy, planning, creation, and optimization to identify roadmaps and levers you can use to improve the strength and efficacy of your SEO content.

Content Ownership

The topic of content ownership is focused around the facilitators who direct, manage, and create content to drive organic search traffic. These are the individuals responsible for the nuts and bolts of content production. This group may involve a mix of consultants, agencies, writers, project leads, managers, and executives, depending on the size of the organization and the amount of overlap between roles. However, no matter how this team is configured, it will essentially be comprised of three main functions: writers, project leads, and management. Each of these positions requires a different approach from the perspective of SEO education to facilitate the most successful SEO content initiatives.

Educating Writers

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to educating writers is the perceived disconnect between the seemingly hard numbers and harsh realities of SEO and the looser creative process of writing. This divide has existed for a long time, but the gap is shrinking. A big part of the traditional friction between writers and SEOs is centered around the idea that SEO stifles creativity by requiring writing to fit into neat little SEO boxes and hit all the right keywords and precise word counts that directly translate to site traffic. But this simply isn’t true anymore. In fact, a valuable technique to bridge the gap between SEOs and writers is to educate them on how things have changed.

One of the most effective ways to educate, enable, and inspire your writers is by showing them how Google has evolved beyond simple keyword repetition into an algorithm that is now sophisticated enough to understand natural language, sentence structure, and how a piece of writing addresses a topic as a whole. And the best way to show them that is to not only educate them about how search works, but how to do it themselves.

Rather than handing a writer a list of keywords that need to be stuffed into a piece, it is better to show writers how to go through the process of identifying keyword opportunities on their own. Teaching writers how SEO tools, concepts, and methods enable a piece to thrive in search will instill an awareness and consciousness of SEO components in a way that engages their personal interests rather than constricts them. Giving direction rather than instructions will cultivate a sense of collaboration and vested interest that can help build rapport between SEOs and content creators and lead to a stronger working relationship and a better overall product.

Educating Project Leads

Project leads are responsible for overseeing the writing process and writing production. Essentially, these individuals are the liaisons between the writers and the SEOs, and it is their job to maintain a cadence for content production and meet the deadlines coming down from management. This is one of the most important roles in a successful SEO content team. Project leads create and manage systems for organizing workflow, connect writers to projects, and facilitate ways to foster the creativity of writers to create quality content within the scope of the deadlines and productivity necessary to achieve search traction.

The most important piece of advice for educating and delegating to your project leads is to avoid disrupting the process. The cadence of production managed by project leads is often a careful balance between needs and resources. SEOs should figure out how to become an integrated partner in that workflow rather than throwing SEO wrenches into the mix that may disturb or delay things. By being conscious of existing workflows, SEOs can work to augment and support them in a way that is beneficial to the process without impeding it.

One of the ways to accomplish this involves two things: tracking workflow and introducing helpful tools. By documenting the productivity and potency of content rather than controlling it at a hands-on level, SEOs can use the data gathered to identify where help is needed and provide functional solutions. Whether it be reoptimizing existing content, addressing gaps in new content, or shifting the approach toward a topic or assignment, analyzing and relaying the data collected regarding content creation will give perspective to project leads and help them improve how they manage their team.

Another way to support your project leads is by enabling them within their existing process. Show them the tools that can help them make the right decisions. Educating leads about data mining, keyword research, topic clustering, and competitive research will enhance their ability to make better choices that will benefit the content as well as the brand as a whole. This will also save time in the long run by providing a kind of hands-off oversight and direction for brainstorming sessions and topic identification that won’t disrupt their process.

Educating Management/Executives

Perhaps the most difficult question in the realm of SEO content is how to educate the management and executives who are putting the money and resources towards it. In order to formulate a successful content strategy, there needs to be clear alignment regarding the type of content being produced. A lack of continuity among content stakeholders will stifle growth and hinder the cadence of production, and on an enterprise level, a beneficial interrelationship has to start at the executive position.

Regardless of how ideas are being generated – whether up the chain or down – a unified approach toward content creation is paramount. Content teams, SEOs, and managers need to be on the same page about what is the most effective content that should be created to bolster a particular SEO initiative, as well as how to formulate clear assessments regarding the impact that content has or will have on the market through competitive analysis.

To accomplish this, it is critical to define an explicit set of expectations among the content stakeholders. It is also vital to create a measurement structure that fits those expectations. Content success is not always distilled down to traffic. It can be defined by a number of metrics within production, creation, and optimization. Setting expectations beyond pure traffic stats and taking into account some of the timelines and nuances within indexing, crawling, and performance will result in a more dynamic understanding of content performance. Educating leaders on how to manage expectations and approach performance metrics will produce a more well-rounded grasp of how to look at content and lead to a more fruitful relationship between SEO content teams and the management investing in these projects.

Content Strategy

Creating a successful content strategy starts with how we define what SEO content is. There’s a tendency to think about content purely through the lens of written editorial pieces, but it encompasses so much more. Content types can include blog posts, product descriptions, metadata, headings, and even the structure of different assets on a page. The point is that content often includes aspects that SEOs don’t always think about, so it is important to compile a thorough list of the content avenues available to you to create a strategy that best utilizes all of them. You won’t know what to use until you know what you have.

Once you’ve taken stock of what you have available in your content arsenal, the next step is assessing what you already have. Performing a content gap analysis to see where your existing content stands against the rest of the market is a crucial part of your overall content strategy and a good place to start. It’s also important to analyze your content by a variety of metrics. It’s not only about how much traffic a page gets, how it ranks for certain keywords, or how it compares directly to its core competitors. It’s also essential to look at other angles, like the frequency of new material being generated on a site, how your page fits into the entire relevant keyword portfolio, and how it performs within the broader topic rather than specifically against a direct competitor. These other measurements allow you to adjust your focus beyond domain bias and paint a richer and clearer picture of performance, which can help you separate and identify specific areas that need improvement.

Once you’ve taken stock of your content inventory and performed a content gap analysis to identify content that can be optimized, the next step is setting your objectives regarding what you want to achieve. Content goals can take a variety of forms, so it’s important to define what you want to get out of it so those goals can inform the strategy you take. Content directly impacts SEO, but it also affects things like user experience, product exposition, or brand awareness. Knowing your objective will inform how you approach specific content creation and how it fits within your broader SEO content strategy.

Content Planning

Content planning piggybacks directly off strategy. Once you’ve established your goals for content creation and identified your overall objectives, it’s now time to set growth targets. These are the tactical, week-to-week tasks and efforts that will move your content strategy forward. When it comes to setting growth targets and developing a plan, it’s about creating and implementing effective and realistic roadmaps and content calendars. This involves identifying specific goals and understanding how to make smart and efficient resource investments to meet them.

Growth targets need to be aligned with the overall objectives you are trying to achieve, but they also need to fall within the scope of the investment being made. The resources available will inform the volume and pace of content production. When it comes to resource planning, organizations need to remember that the content creation process involves equal parts preparation and creation. You need to find a writer who can execute the piece, but you also need someone who can work with the writer and provide the right resources to make them successful, whether it be content briefs, training, technical product specs, or other educational materials. Having the right preparation resources in place before the writing even begins gives you a significantly greater chance of getting exactly what you want out of the content. 

Content Creation

Now that we’ve defined content types, roles, strategy, and planning, it’s finally time to look at actual content creation. One of the most crucial parts of the content creation process occurs before any content is actually drafted, and that’s the all-important content brief. Content briefs have morphed over time to fill a number of different roles, but at their core, they are still the best way to simplify and provide direction for a project without overwhelming and prohibiting the content creation process. Whether they exist within SEO tools like Searchmetrics Content Experience or Clearscope, or whether they are simply a template with written copy, content briefs are highly effective at distilling down the expectations, objectives, and parameters of a piece in a way that connects with the writer naturally.

It’s also important to remember that while content briefs are useful for providing clarity and guidance, they are not meant to be set in stone. The goal is not to stifle the writing process with strict adherence to exact word counts and keyword requirements; it’s to offer a set of data points that clearly indicate the general components, tone and brand voice, user expectations, target audience, and questions that need to be answered for a piece to achieve success within search. By setting out a clear path to attaining positive results, the content brief can help minimize the amount of time necessary for rewrites and editing that can drag out the content creation process. And in the event that content needs to be revisited and reoptimized later, content briefs can also serve as a helpful guide for that process.

Content Optimization

The last and perhaps most underutilized piece of the content puzzle is optimization. Because content teams often tend to think in terms of needing to produce more material to be indexed and crawled, sometimes they ignore one of the easiest ways to drive incremental traffic. Revisiting, optimizing, and extending content that isn’t performing up to its potential is not only effective, but also much simpler and quicker than producing a brand new piece.

The first step of the process is analyzing your existing content based on what’s working or not and framing that in the context of internal value. You don’t want to go in and start hacking away at everything based on its performance, or you will lose content that serves other important functions surrounding a company’s identity, values, or voice. However, by using a process wherein you are constantly evaluating content based on whether to keep, remove, or update it, you can ensure you aren’t leaving money on the table, so to speak. The tricky part is knowing when to keep, when to remove, and when to update.

When evaluating your existing content, rather than spending resources combing through everything, you want to first identify subsets or categories of content that allow you to narrow in on what is worth updating, then scale up over time. These subsets can be defined through data analytics, who the author is, the level of E-A-T, seasonal demand, or other factors that make it easier to tackle content optimization in more manageable fragments.

Once you’ve broken down your existing content into bite-sized groups, the next step is setting a calendar timeline for reevaluation. This will allow you to examine content from different angles and explore creative ways to increase its value, even if it is already performing well by certain metrics but not necessarily in other areas. Planning ahead is crucial to this process. By having a clear plan for what you are going to revisit and how, you give yourself the opportunity to prepare and execute optimization more efficiently. This also allows you to look beyond surface-level metrics like keyword density and engagement and explore more abstract concepts like user experience and value. While it can be challenging to isolate those data points, there are tools available that can help you evaluate content through that lens. The further ahead you plan, the easier it is to approach optimization from a variety of angles.

Optimization can also extend to other facets of content creation. By revisiting content, you can also reevaluate the systems you use to strategize, communicate, and delegate content creation and look for ways to improve those functions as well.

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