Marieke van de Rakt
Marieke van de Rakt is the founder of Yoast Academy and CEO of Yoast. Her favorite SEO topics are SEO copywriting and site structure.
Content SEO is a key part of any SEO strategy. Without content, it’s impossible for your site to rank in search engines. It’s, therefore, crucial to write and structure quality content! This ultimate guide covers the most important areas of content SEO. Read on if you want to learn how to create content that ranks.
What is content SEO?
Content SEO refers to creating content that helps your web pages to rank high in the search engines. It includes everything to do with the writing and structuring of content on your website. There are three major elements you need to consider to produce content that will make your website rank well: keyword strategy, site structure and copywriting.
Content SEO is important because search engines, such as Google, read your website, so the words you use on your site determine whether or not your site will rank in their results pages. Of course, your website should be well-designed, with a great user interface, and all the technical stuff that makes your site rank in Google should also be covered. But without good quality content, your site does not stand a chance in the search engines.
1. Keyword research
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is basically the steps you take to create an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for. Every content SEO strategy should begin with keyword research, because you have to know what your audience is searching for if you want to generate traffic. Keyword research helps you to discover the terms you should be aiming to rank for.
Keyword research has four steps:
- First, you write down the mission of your business;
- Next, you make a list of all the keywords you want to be found for;
- Look at search intent
- Finally, you create landing pages for all these keywords.
If you do your keyword research right, you should have a clear overview of the terms people use and the terms for which you want the pages on your site to be found. This overview will serve as a guide for writing content on your website.
Read more: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »
Why is keyword research so important for SEO content?
Proper keyword research will make clear which search terms your audience uses. This is crucial. At Yoast, we regularly encounter clients who use particular words when talking about their products, while their customers use entirely different words. Optimizing SEO content for words that people do not use doesn’t make any sense. Doing proper keyword research makes sure that you are using the same words as your target audience and therefore makes the whole effort of optimizing your website worthwhile.
Some terms we use in keyword research
Keywords and keyphrases
We tend to use the word ‘keyword‘ all the time, but we don’t necessarily mean it has to be just one word. ‘WordPress SEO’ is a keyword, as is ‘Google Analytics plugin.’ So you can have keywords containing multiple words!
Long tail keywords
The longer (and more specific) a search term is, the easier it will be to rank for that term. Keywords that are more specific (and usually longer) are usually referred to as long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific and focus more on a niche.
How many keywords?
It is very hard to give an exact number of keywords you should focus on. And then again, it’s very simple: You just need to have a lot – as many as you can come up with. More than 1,000 keywords is probably too many though!
Even if you’re a reasonably small business, you’ll probably end up with a couple of hundred keywords. But you don’t have to create pages for all of these immediately. The great thing about having a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress is that you can gradually add content. Think about what keywords you would like to rank for right away, and which ones aren’t immediately important. Determine what your priorities are and plan the creation of your content.
Head or tail?
Classifying your keywords is essential. Some keywords are very common and competitive (head), while others are long-tail. Decide which are your most critical, high-level keywords – the ones that generate sufficient traffic for your website and best fit your business. You will probably only have a few of these general keywords for your business, the rest of them will be more down the tail. In the next section, we will give more in-depth information on long tail keywords (and the importance of these keywords).
SEO content focusing on the most common keywords should be on the top level pages on your website (homepage and the pages one level beneath your homepage), whereas content focusing on long tail keywords should be more on the tail end of your site.
Keyword intent and search intent
As you’re doing keyword research, it really pays off to think about the search intent of users. Would they be looking for information when they enter your keyword as a search term? Or is their goal to buy something? Keyword intent is clear in keywords like [buy leather sofa], or [how to train your puppy]. But it’s not always that simple.
There are four types of intent:
- Navigational intent: People want to visit a specific website, but rather than entering the URL, they’re entering a term into a search engine.
- Informational intent: People are trying to find an answer to a particular question or information on a specific topic.
- Commercial intent: People want to buy something in the near future and are doing research before making a purchase.
- Transactional intent: People are looking to buy something after doing their commercial intent searches.
Search engines are always trying to answer to the exact needs people have, and they’re getting better and better at guessing people’s intent. So, put simply, if 95% of the people searching for ‘change car tire’ have informational intent, and you’re optimizing for transactional intent to sell tires, you’re probably not going to rank most of the time.
You can get a wealth of information from the results pages when you’re doing keyword research. If you want to find out what the intent is of people using your keywords, simply google those keywords and take a good look at the search results. Try to create your content so that it answers the specific need that you distill from the results for each keyword.
Keep reading: What is search intent? »
Tools you can use
There are multiple free tools available to help you with your keyword research. Check out our article about keyword research tools if you want to find out more about practical tools.
Adapting your keyword strategy
Your keyword strategy isn’t static. It should change and evolve alongside your company and your website. It should evolve and grow with you. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.
You should be on top of the changes in your company and adapt your strategy simultaneously. If your online shop starts selling new products, extend your list with more keywords. If you’re aiming for new markets, it’s vital that your keywords are aimed at these new markets as well.
There are several keyword strategies to adopt. One of them is to start off trying to rank for long tail keywords and then aim at more general keywords afterwards, but you could also start by focusing on general ones then aim for more long tail keywords after. You can zoom in and pursue more niche activities, broaden your approach, adding more content on different things, or you can do both simultaneously.
2. Site structure
The second important aspect of content SEO is the structure of your site. First I will explain why site structure is critical, then I’ll show you what an ideal site structure looks like. I will also give tips on how to (quickly) improve your site structure without completely disrupting the core of your website.
Why is site structure important for content SEO?
There are two main reasons why site structure is an important ranking factor and therefore imparative for SEO content:
a. Good structure helps Google to ‘understand’ your site
The way your site is structured gives Google significant clues about where to find the most important content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what your site is about, and how easily it will find and index content relevant to your site’s purpose and intent. A good site structure will, therefore, lead to a higher ranking in Google.
By creating such a structure, you can use existing content that has attracted links from others to help other pages rank as well. Your site’s structure will help spread some of that link juice to the other pages on your site. On a commercial site, that means that you can use quality content you’ve written to boost the search engine rankings of your sales pages too.
b. Good structure makes sure you are not competing with your own SEO content
On your website, you will probably have multiple articles about similar topics. At Yoast, for example, we write about SEO. If we wrote eight articles about SEO, Google wouldn’t know which of these is most important. If we didn’t clarify this with our site structure, we’d be competing with our own articles for Google’s top spot. So, solving problems like this using a sound internal linking structure will result in higher rankings overall.
The ideal structure of a site
Ideally, you should structure your site like a pyramid. On top of the pyramid is your homepage and on the homepage are links to some other pages (such as category pages). These pages, in turn, link to even more pages.
In an effective content SEO strategy, your keyword strategy and the way you structure your site work together. In a proper keyword strategy, you’ll have thought about common, competitive keywords as well as more long tail niche search terms. You should make a similar dichotomy in your site structure. Pages focusing on more common search terms should appear high in your pyramid, while pages optimized for more long tail keywords should appear in a lower part of your site structure. These long tail pages at the bottom of the pyramid must link correctly to the pages higher in the pyramid.
Read on: The ultimate guide to site structure »
Practical tips on improving your site structure
If you’re serious about content SEO, you’ll most likely already have a live website. So it may be a bit late to set up your site’s structure in an ideal pyramid-like way. Don’t despair – there are still plenty of things you can do to improve your site’s structure and your SEO content.
Decide upon cornerstone content
You should focus your efforts on cornerstone articles. These are the articles you’re most proud of, that fit the mission of your website best. This ultimate guide is, in fact, one of our cornerstones. You want to rank for these articles the most. If you haven’t decided which of your articles are the most important yet, start thinking about that now. Make these articles the best ones on your site. Give them extra TLC and update them regularly.
Keep on reading: What is cornerstone content »
Link from tail to head
Once you’ve decided upon your precious cornerstones, make sure you link from all your ‘tail’ articles to those cornerstones. That way, Google will know which articles to rank highest. Read all about this in our article about incorporating cornerstones into your site structure.
Use tags (but not too many)
Your site will also benefit from adding tags. Tags and taxonomies will give your site more structure – or at least, Google will understand it better. They group your articles about similar topics. Don’t overdo it, though. Some people have more tags than articles. Using too many tags will lead to a confusing, poorly-structured website.
Avoid duplicate content
The same SEO content can turn up at multiple places on your site. As a reader, you don’t mind: you still get the content you came for. But a search engine has to choose something to show in the search results, as it doesn’t want to show the same content twice.
Moreover, when other websites link to your product, chances are some of them link to the first URL, while others link to the second URL. But if these duplicates all link to the same URL, your chance of ranking top 10 for the relevant keyword would be much higher. Canonicalization is the solution to duplicate content. You can configure the canonical URL in the advanced tab of Yoast SEO.
Remove old SEO content
If the content on a page is outdated, remove it! However, you may have had some valuable links to that page. You want to make sure you still benefit from these links, even though the page doesn’t exist any longer, so you should redirect the URL.
Redirecting pages is not difficult if you have our Yoast SEO Premium plugin, which can help you to take care of redirects. Preferably, you redirect the old URL (301) to the page or product that replaced the old page or product, or a related page if there is no replacement. That could be the category page of the specific product, or, as a very last resort, your homepage. This way the (outdated) page won’t interfere with your site structure anymore.
Deal with orphaned content
The term ‘orphaned content’ refers to articles that don’t have any links from your other articles or posts. Because of that, these articles are hard to find, both by Google and by users of your site. Google will consider this type of content less important. So, if an article is important to you, make that clear to Google (and your visitors) by linking to that particular article from other (related) content. Read more about solving the problem of orphaned articles in our article about orphaned content.
Check out our article on how to improve your site structure in 4 simple steps for more tips and practical input.
The third and final aspect of a successful content SEO strategy is copywriting. You should write articles that are attractive to read, and that makes your audience want to stay on your website. At the same time, you want to make your SEO content attractive for Google. But some people go too far and optimize their content so overtly that they become terrible to read. At Yoast, we suggest optimizing your text for search without adversely affecting the originality of your idea or the readability of your text.
Read more: The ultimate guide to SEO copywriting »
Copywriting starts with an original idea
The first requirement for high-quality copywriting is to write original content. Your blog post or your article should be ‘fresh,’ new and original. It has to be different from all the other blog posts and articles that are already on the internet. It should be content that people will want to read.
If you did your keyword research well, you ended up with a long list of terms you want to be found for. This list can be a guide for you to choose from. A keyword is not yet a topic, though. You should make sure to come up with an original idea for your blog post – an idea in which the desired focus keyword has a prominent place.
Original SEO content doesn’t necessarily mean brand new content. Of course, if your story is completely new, that’ll automatically mean it’s original. However, giving your (professional) opinion on a particular topic also counts as original content. Your own personal angle to a story will make your content unique and original.
Think about your audience
If you want to write original content, you should think about your audience and who they are. Also, ask yourself:
- What do you want to tell your audience?
- What will be the main message of your article?
- What is the purpose of your article?
- What do you want your audience to do after they’ve read your article? (Do you want them to engage, to buy your stuff, to read more posts?)
Thinking about these questions will help you to come up with an original idea for your post or article.
Content design is a process that helps you produce content based on actual user needs. It doesn’t just help you figure out what your user wants, but it focuses more on what the user actually needs. Thinking about your content in this way will help your user to get that content when they need it, in the language and format they need it.
Content design isn’t just a technique to help you produce better content – it’s a new way of thinking about content. If you want to know more about content design, read our post on content design: a great way to make user-centered content.
Copywriting requires readable SEO content
A key requirement for writing high-quality content is to write content that’s easily readable. Readability is important both for your audience and for Google. After all, not only do people read your articles, but Google does too.
If your text is well structured and clearly written, readers will understand your message, but perhaps, more importantly, it will also help Google understand better too. If your main message is clearer to Google, your post is far more likely to rank well in the search engines.
Readability is about many factors, including text structure, sentence length and writing clear paragraphs. Read all about the importance of readability in this post. For more tips on readability, you can read our post on how to make an article more readable.
Content, context and search intent
As Google is getting smarter, it starts to understand content on sites better. It doesn’t just see if a keyword pops up a certain number of times on a page. It also takes into account the context of those keywords, like co-occurring terms and phrases, related words and synonyms. On top of that, as mentioned before, Google is able to understand queries of users better: it tries to determine what the search intent of the user is. Is he or she looking for a product or just information? Which pages fit that intent best?
All these developments mean that you should focus on more than just using your keyword often enough. It means you should also think about the words you use around it: do they make clear what topic you’re discussing? And, do you have the purpose in mind of the post or page you’re creating? Does it just provide information or are you trying to sell something, and does that align with what your users are actuall looking for? Yoast SEO Premium lets you optimize your SEO content with synonyms, making it even easier to add context to your articles.
Content should be optimized for search engines
The final requirement for writing high-quality content is to make sure the content is optimized for search engines. You want your SEO content to be easily found. Findability has to do with increasing the likelihood Google will pick up your content for the result pages. It’s important that you take this final step after you’ve written an original and readable post.
Yoast SEO helps you tweak your text just a little bit more. If you’ve written your article, focused on that original idea, and optimized the readability of your post, you should take a look at the SEO analysis in Yoast SEO. Red and orange bullets indicate which aspects of your findability need a little bit more attention. You don’t need a green bullet for every aspect though, as long as your overall score is good.
Yoast SEO will help you to optimize your snippet preview as well. These tweaks can vastly improve your chances to be picked up by the search engines. Read more about optimizing your post in our article on how to use the content and SEO analysis.
Conclusion on Content SEO
Content SEO is such a huge part of SEO. It encompasses all the aspects of writing and structuring content on your website. Content SEO is essential. Google reads and scans your website text. Google’s algorithm decides the ranking of your site largely based on the content you publish. And we all know content is king. So, you need to write awesome SEO content, focus on the right keywords and structure your website in such a way Google understands it. It’s a lot of work, but it will pay off in the long run.
Keep reading: Blogging: the ultimate guide »