SEO for content marketing: is thinking SEO-first the key to getting it right?

By Mark Donald, Future Fusion on

If you have been tasked with your company’s content marketing strategy, you should be thinking about SEO. You might have heard of SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, and possibly even know why it’s important, but did you know that thinking SEO first should be an integral part of your content marketing strategy? 

What is SEO?  

SEO refers to the best practices used to increase the quantity of visitors that come to a website via organic search. It encompasses the many ways there are to improve the chance of content appearing at the top of a search engine’s result page (SERP), which increases the likelihood of click-throughs. Some optimisations, website load speed for example, are ‘behind the scenes’, while others can be made on the page.

 How do you use SEO for content marketing?

Content writing and SEO should not be considered separately – don’t write content and then ‘SEO it’. In fact, one of the most important things anyone writing for an online audience can do is to make SEO part of the content-writing process.

Here are five tips to help you build SEO into your writing process and practise SEO-first content marketing.

1. Use keyword research to discover what your audience wants.

Search engines give users the opportunity to trawl the internet for answers to their questions, whether it’s a recipe, a recommendation, where to buy something or even what to buy. Your job as a content marketer is to create content that answers that query – but how do you know what your audience is looking for?

As a marketer you’ll have instincts about what content you want to put in front of your audience. Keyword research supports your instincts with data, and helps you ensure that you’re writing content your audience wants to read. Keywords are a crucial part of SEO for content marketing because they tell search engines what terms you want your content to rank for, as well as indicating to your audience what your content is about.

Once you have a topic in mind – whether it’s travel recommendations, sustainable fashion or SEO tips for content marketers – your first step should be to look it up in a search engine to get an insight into what others are writing on the subject. The purpose of this is not to replicate what you see, but to spot what’s working for competitors – and also what’s missing. 

 You should then conduct keyword research around your topic. Google Trends is a good place to start because it’s free, and simple to use. It doesn’t give you the volume of searches a term gets per month, but it shows you the level of interest in terms over time. There are also many free tools you can use to generate hundreds of keyword suggestions from a seed keyword, for example Keyword Sheeter or Answer the Public. You can also use Google Ads Keyword Planner, or Keywordtool.io, which include keyword volumes, to broaden your keyword list. 

2. Use Google Autocomplete to find secondary keywords.

Each article you write should focus on one main keyword, so it is clear to the reader what the subject of the article is, but it’s important to also use secondary keywords. These could be synonyms of your main keyword, or closely related words or phrases. 

A great way to find suggestions for secondary keywords is to use Google’s Autocomplete feature. If you start to type your keyword into Google, it will suggest some search queries. These are all previous searches, so they give you a good indication of the related terms people might be using. These suggestions are often questions, and often also appear in the ‘People Also Ask section of Google’s search results. 

SEO - searching engine on a computer

3. Don’t overuse your keywords 

By now you have your keywords, and some secondary ones, but what do you do with them to level up your SEO for content marketing? As mentioned previously, keywords are how Google decides which search terms your content appears under, so writing content without considering keywords means your article is unlikely to be seen by more than a few people. 

Your main keyword should always be in your headline, exactly as the user would use it – don’t split up the keyword. Beyond the headline, aim to use your keyword in the strapline, in the first sentence and then littered throughout the rest of the article in a natural way – you don’t want your keyword in every other sentence. The secondary keywords mentioned in tip #2 can be really useful here, as they allow you to reference your keyword without stuffing your article full of repetition.  

Headings within your article are a great place to include any questions you found while looking at Google Autocomplete and People Also Ask. If there’s a specific question that you know people are asking, why not make it clear to your reader – and Google – that you know the answer by giving it its own section? 

4. Avoid targeting the same keyword with multiple articles. 

As mentioned previously, you should only write one article for each keyword you want your website to rank for – otherwise those articles might compete. If you have multiple pages trying to rank for the same term, and it is not clear which offers the best answer to the user’s query, the search engine won’t know which page to rank and could ignore both. This is called cannibalisation.

Your secondary keyword research from step #2 will have provided you with synonyms and related keywords to keep your writing natural, but it may also have given you keywords for creating separate content. If the person using that search term or phrase has a different intention to those using your main keyword, you can write a separate article. In this way, you can use keywords you’ve already found to develop your SEO-first content marketing strategy and avoid cannibalisation.

5. Your content should reflect your expertise.

Focusing on content that reflects your expertise will help it stand out from all the other content published on a subject – and that’s also key for SEO. 

When it comes to ranking content, Google values the expertise, authority and trust (E-A-T) of a website and individual authors. Google is getting better at recognising quality content, which includes the skill and expertise of the content creator as well as the quality of their written words. You can mention a writer’s credentials in your article, or link to a biography page to help with this. 

 It takes time to build E-A-T but user experience is something you can start to influence today. Audiences who read your content will signal to Google that they are pleased with the results they were shown – they might spend a long time on your page, they might click through and read related content, and they’ll come back. Write expert content with an audience-first mindset, and authority will follow. 

 Is thinking SEO first the key to good content marketing? 

When it comes to SEO for content marketing, making SEO a part of the writing process and not an afterthought is the key to success. Nothing will ever be more important than the quality and relevance of content, but good content on its own is not enough. If you want to rank well in the long term, you need to write expert content that is well optimised for search engines and makes good use of keywords to ensure that it is shown for relevant terms, thereby giving your audience the answers they are looking for.

I work for Future Fusion, the content marketing arm of Future PLC. We are experts at building communities around people’s passions, and positioning brands at the heart of incredible content that drives transformative results.

We publish a monthly newsletter with the latest trends in content marketing. You can sign up here if you’d like to be kept informed – Future Fusion Monthly Email.

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