Content strategy is an essential part of SEO — after all, content and links are among the top three ranking factors in search.
However, you can’t simply create content for content’s sake and expect to achieve any results. Millions of blog posts are published each day, so you need to create content that stands out and earns worthwhile links. This is where the strategy part comes into play.
Strategic content planning and execution involves:
- prioritizing lower difficulty topics and themes.
- content layering and optimal internal linking.
- understanding linkability and identifying opportunities.
- regular upkeep and maintenance of existing content.
A complete SEO content strategy will include these processes.
With the glut of content published daily online, you must be strategic to garner the attention needed for success. Many brands believe publishing blog post after blog post will lead to more links, higher rankings and increased website visitors.
However, SEO is not so simple — you need to be linkworthy to secure links, there are a variety of factors beyond content and links that influence rankings, and you must build strategic buyer funnels to sustainably build relevant traffic.
Today, I want to share a content strategy we’ve used to grow several clients’ site visits by ~303 percent over the past year.
Prioritize lower-difficulty topics
The first step in building your content strategy is to identify which topics your content will cover.
Effective strategies begin with research — start by analyzing the keywords and themes relevant to your business. For this post, I’ll be using SEMrush (although there are plenty of viable tools available) for my research.
During your analysis, you should evaluate three main criteria:
- Search volume
- Competition/keyword difficulty
- Traffic value/cost
The sweet spot that you’re looking for in your research is high search volume and value with low difficulty. However, all your important keywords will not fall within this ideal cross-section, so you should also prioritize lower-difficulty topics.
In SEMrush, you can quickly get an estimate for keyword difficulty by clicking “Keyword Analytics”=>”Keyword Difficulty”:
Again, there are several tools to choose from to gauge keyword difficulty; just make sure you use the same tool when comparing the difficulty of potential topics.
Of course, you can also manually assess difficulty by simply analyzing the SERPs. Examine the pages currently ranking on page one — if you see well-known brand names or high-authority sites, it likely means higher competition. Conversely, low-quality and/or low-authority results mean lower competition and a potential opportunity to fill a content gap.
Unless you’re already an established, authoritative brand, you’re going to have to prioritize lower difficulty topics. Targeting these less competitive spaces will guide your content marketing strategy, helping you focus your efforts where they will make the most impact.
Layer content and optimize internal links
As you strategize and plan content, consider opportunities where content layering and internal linking are possible.
Content layering refers to the practice of “layering” middle-of-the-funnel content on top of bottom-of-the-funnel content by covering relevant, complementary topics and internally linking between pages.
Finding and executing on these opportunities provides a wide array of benefits, including:
- shared authority. Middle-of-the-funnel content is typically more linkable than bottom-of-the-funnel content, and through internal linking, valuable equity can be passed from the links pointing to your mid-funnel content through to your converting pages.
- increased brand authority and recognition. Ranking pages for mid-funnel queries can build authority and recognition that pays dividends later in bottom-funnel searches.
- link acquisition for converting pages. Promotion of mid-funnel pages can yield links for bottom-funnel pages if they’re strategically and contextually linked within the content you’re promoting.
Content layering and internal linking need to be part of any content strategy. By layering content and linking internally, you can structure your site in a way that’s easy to follow for readers and search engines alike.
Focus on linkability and opportunity
Any SEO strategy — particularly a content strategy — must account for links.
Links remain an important ranking factor and have numerous benefits beyond search. Because links are so valuable, you should focus on linkability as you plan content.
Linkability, or “linkworthiness,” simply refers to the potential for securing links. People link to other sites in a variety of ways online, so to evaluate linkability, you need to think about why someone might link.
The first place to start is with the potential outreach market for your content. These are the people who might be interested in sharing and linking to your content if you contacted them and let them know it existed.
A few factors to consider as you analyze a potential outreach audience include:
- search volume for associated keyword. If nobody is searching for this topic, it’s likely nobody will be interested in linking.
- the number of unique domains linking to top results. If the top results can’t muster many links, you will likely struggle as well.
- types of pages linking to top results. A quick manual review of the linking pages will give you a sense of whether these types of links would be achievable for your site.
Along with evaluating the outreach market, you need to analyze link opportunity. Analyzing opportunity essentially boils down to one question: Can I create something better or more useful than what is currently ranking?
SEO expert Brian Dean’s “skyscraper technique” — in which marketers identify great content, create something better, and then reach out to relevant parties who have linked to similar content — is a great option for capitalizing on link opportunity. However, you must adapt the technique to meet your specific situation.
The key portion of the skyscraper technique is creating something better than what is ranking. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend hours creating the most comprehensive resource imaginable — sometimes it only takes small tweaks to deliver something better.
Some common options for improving on what’s already ranking includes:
- creating a more searchable title.
- improving readability and formatting (headers, sub-headers, bullet lists and so forth).
- optimizing for page speed.
- citing reputable authorities and source (also provides built-in promotion opportunities).
- expanding on or exploring the topic in more depth.
- sharing original or new research.
Along with these improvements, another way to elevate your content above the competition is to add extra formats. Perhaps the topic would be better suited to a video? Maybe you can add original photography or animation to create something that is best in class.
Adding extra content types can require more of an investment, but it’s worth it. Investing in at least one sunk cost differentiator — photography, video or design, for example — will truly set your content apart and help you secure the links needed to outpace the competition.
Regularly update and maintain existing content
While most content marketing strategies focus on crafting new content, a complete content strategy will also account for existing content and pages.
As you identify potential link opportunities and content gaps, don’t forget to take stock of your existing content. Sometimes it can be easier (and more effective) to update existing content rather than create something from scratch.
In fact, many of the methods for improving content listed above can be applied to your own pages.
Adding extra content types can be particularly effective for upgrading existing content. For example, adding a video to a long-form how-to post adds extra value and linkability, and can even capture bonus traffic and attention via YouTube — as I demonstrated in this post.
An alternative option to upgrading is repurposing. Rather than adding extra content types or formats, you can repurpose an underperforming content asset into something that better serves the needs of searchers. Analyze the SERPs you want to rank in, see if there is a prevailing content type, and then match that format.
Finally, a simple way to keep your existing pages fresh is to add a “Last updated” tag at the top of the page. This tactic will allow you to continuously update and improve a page as the topic it covers evolves over time, keeping your page fresh and competitive in search. Including the last updated date will also inform readers how current the information is, serving as a form of social proof.
Your SEO content plan should largely concentrate on how you can deliver new, engaging content to your audience. But don’t forget to dedicate some time and effort to improving existing pages as well.
Outline of an effective SEO content strategy
To recap all the information shared here, follow this outline and implement these practices in your content planning.
- Prioritize lower difficulty topics.
- Analyze opportunities based on search volume, keyword difficulty and traffic value.
- Manually review SERPs to find gaps and low-competition phrases.
- Layer content and optimize internal links.
- Layered content benefits your converting pages through shared link equity, increased brand authority and direct link acquisition.
- Focus on linkability and opportunity.
- Evaluate potential outreach markets.
- Analyze link opportunity, make improvements and execute something better.
- Invest in at least one sunk cost differentiator.
- Regularly update and maintain existing content.
- Improve and upgrade existing pages.
- Repurpose existing assets into something more linkworthy and useful.
- Include a “last updated” function to manage content freshness.
We’ve used this SEO content strategy time and time again to help our clients grow their site visitors, and I hope you find success with it as well.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.