Content creation not showing the results you were promised?
Coming up with new ideas taking up too much of your time?
This guide will walk you through the reasons why marketers are pivoting from creation to optimization and what you need to know to get more eyes on your content.
Life will be easy.
What is content optimization?
Content optimization is the practice of updating and adjusting on-page copy and coding to make content more appealing to search engines and, by extension, human searchers. You can call this high-quality content, or as some prefer, SEO content.
In the vast majority of cases, there are certain steps one can take to enhance organic search rankability, as it’s unlikely that every page that exists on a website is 100 percent optimized.
And with Google processing 63,000 search queries every second and making thousands of behind-the-scenes algorithm updates annually, optimizing content to align with the latest changes is a continuous process.
Content that’s search-friendly one day may be stale and outdated the next. Hence the need for ongoing optimization that’s built into standard digital marketing operating procedures.
This is the defining purpose of SEO.
Why search engine optimization is so important
Search engine optimization ensures your content is crawlable by search bots and formatted ideally for user consumption.
Fluffy, thin content is penalized for not meeting these SEO criteria, while comprehensive, relevant content is rewarded with higher rankings in SERPs.
But beyond these ground-floor practices, SEO is important for the value it adds to businesses’ bottom lines.
SEO is ROI.
More than 82 percent of marketers state their SEO effectiveness is increasing (i.e., search presence competition is more heated than ever). Another 61 percent report SEO is their top inbound marketing priority.
These trends make sense, as SEO is proven to generate:
Of equal importance is understanding how both on- and off-page SEO factor into the effectiveness of your content.
What’s the difference between on-page SEO and off-page SEO?
As the name suggests, on-page SEO refers to all copy and metadata that can be adjusted within your content management system. That’s the focus of this post.
Off-page SEO is everything else that influences organic rankings that occurs outside the parameters of your CMS or website, such as link-building, brand mentions and, as adjuncts, social media and influencer marketing.
So how do you optimize on-page content?
Below are the primary factors that writers, content managers and digital strategists take into account when optimizing their website content:
- Title tags.
- Meta descriptions.
- Alt tags.
- URL structures.
- Media (images, videos).
- H1, H2 and H3 tags.
- Internal linking.
- Outbound linking.
These factors are step-one, no-brainer SEO techniques. But the content – i.e., blogs, images, videos – that populates the majority of your web pages must be optimized for search as well.
Optimizing older posts, rather than creating new ones, can have an enormous impact on organic rankings and search presence. Brafton.com is a perfect example of this methodology.
Content optimization priorities: Where to start and what to do
When optimizing content, you should optimize the entire page for a single keyword.
Yes, secondary and Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords will play a role, but it needs to be absolutely clear to search engines and consumers what your page (blog) is about and how relevant it is to the topic, its title, subheads and metatags. To do that, laser-focus on an individual keyword.
(For this very post, ours is “website content optimization,” so we’re attempting to tackle this topic from all logical angles. Additionally, long-tail keywords that are three to four words long tend to be the best targets.)
Pinpoint pages for improvement
To start, use Google Search Console/Moz Keyword Explorer to determine pages that are already on the cusp of ranking on page one for a given keyword. (You can choose any page, really, but the quickest way to see tangible ranking improvements is to focus first on pages that already perform reasonably well and just need a small shove across the SERP goal line.)
Say, for instance, you currently rank in position 12 for “content strategy consulting.” This means you likely need to jump just two more positions to appear on page one, which is where 90 percent or more of all clicks occur.
Provided your page is properly marked up on the backend and all metadata is keyword relevant, you’ll need to update the depth of your copy. We call this “content depth.”
Perform a content depth audit
Essentially, your blogs aren’t ranking as well as they could be because there are certain gaps within your content that other companies are exploiting. They are covering topics more thoroughly than you are, so of course Google correlates their posts with better value for users.
A content gap analysis reveals the ideas you need to include in your updated copy to better serve searcher intent. It’s a step-by-step blueprint for what to keep and what to change.
With these newly uncovered ideas, you need to write each of them methodically enough to add value to the reader: No skimping or glossing over important aspects of the keyword.
Plus, these ideas must flow well into the larger narrative and be relevant to the root keyword you’re targeting. In most cases, this means expanding content length by several hundred or even a thousand words – Yes, that’s what’s required to rank today. Extrapolate this step across every sub-optimal page on your site, and you can see how it can be a lengthy, time-intensive process. The benefit, though, is that fully optimized content makes your content marketing results snowball, as each updated page confers value upon any to which it is linked.
Consider additional on-page elements
Once the copy is written, another way to optimize the page is to include custom imagery, social share buttons, logical CTAs and appropriate subheadings to break up the text into a more easily consumable format. You may also want to embed social media elements like Instagram photos or tweets for additional context.
To reap the rewards of such a strategy, you don’t need to change existing metadata every time (title tags and URLs, specifically). Simply open the old post within your CMS, make content changes directly, then republish.
Pages for which you include additional inline images, be sure to leverage the value of image captions and alt text. These elements are ripe real estate for inserting a targeted keyword or two if you feel like you’ve practically said all you could say with pure copy. This technique, known as Image SEO, is microscopic in the bigger picture of your marketing, but it can add serious semantic relevance to your pages.
As you go down the line optimizing subsequent posts, you can dive deeper into pages that aren’t performing well at all, with the ultimate goal being to enhance as many posts as possible.
Every piece of content holds inherent value. After all, you devoted resources to create it in the first place. Your job is only half complete, however, if you let that content stew on page 3 (or worse!) for years. Circle back to it, optimize and track performance metrics.
Website content optimization tools to use
In theory, any SEO marketing tool (or plugin) should be able to clue you in on what to optimize and how to do it. Those tools may include:
At Brafton, we, for certain applications, use all of the above.
In practice, we’ve found the most efficient and cost-effective optimization tools to be MarketMuse and trusty ol’ Google Search Console.
These tools provide the exact data we need, actionable takeaways on what to improve and the likelihood of us outperforming others once content updates are made.
Find a tool that suits your vision and fits your budget.
What does successful optimization look like?
So you’ve optimized a piece of content on your site and the new version is live. What now? Did it work?
Run a Fetch as Google, which prompts the search engine to reindex your post within seconds, and see what your new SERP position is. More specifically, use an incognito window to ensure you’re viewing bias-free results. If you’ve followed your content gap analysis as closely as possible, you should see a ranking improvement.
In our experience, it’s possible, after republishing, to jump dozens of positions in a matter of seconds. Google’s algorithms work that fast.
The only metric, on the surface, for a “successful optimization” is your SERP position. Up is good; down is nearly impossible.
But looking further into what it means to rank higher shows that there are tangible benefits to successfully optimizing your website content, which we outlined above (e.g., more clicks, conversions, traffic, etc.). You can measure click-through rate in Google Analytics to get a better sense of whether those higher SERP positions are actually paying off, too.
Once your content is ranking well, you can move into more sophisticated practices, such as conversion rate optimization, to then identify how to push site visitors further down the sales funnel.
This end-to-end organic optimization strategy should increase the chances of converting readers into customers.
Be sure to pair your great content with social media and email promotion, too. By distributing your optimized content across several channels, you can deliver additional referral traffic and ranking signals to your site. This indirectly ups the likelihood of nabbing the search position you seek.
Content ranking factors
SEO tools spotlight how to adequately write about a target keyword, but you must still perform the actual updates (aka write the darn thing).
And when writing, you must still adhere to the core content ranking factors that search engines use.
The Google ranking factors that matter most in 2018 are right here in this great infographic:
Provided you have a mobile-friendly website, don’t have a large number of inhibitive site errors (e.g., duplicate content) and are consistently tweaking your content for search, then you, by and large, have executed on the foundational SEO tasks you must conduct to own SERPs in 2018.
And isn’t that what we all want? Our faces plastered all over page one of Google.
Editor’s note: Updated September 2020.