SEO Content Writing: The Basics of Content Marketing for Your Customers and Search Engines
Content marketing is one of those terms that’s tossed around a lot these days. But what does it actually mean — and why is it important for your business? Sherry Bonelli explains.
Content marketing refers to the way you communicate with your audience through a variety of media, such as blog posts, videos, infographics, email newsletters, webinars, and more. Content marketing is important not only because it allows you to connect with your customers through words or images, but — if done correctly — it can also help you rank higher on the search engines.
The Marriage of Content and SEO
Every piece of content you produce must have an SEO component; one can’t exist without the other. But you don’t have to be a search marketing professional to pull this off. Anybody can learn enough about SEO to help increase the odds of their content getting ranked higher on Google, Bing, Yahoo! or whatever your preferred search engine is.
Know Your Audience
Before you even create your first piece of content, you first must know exactly who your audience is and what questions or problems they have that you can solve. Get together with your team and brainstorm the types of problems and solutions related to your business. Once you have a list and have a good feel for the issues and questions your customers have, it’s time to do keyword research.
If you want your website pages to rank on Google and other search engines, you need to make sure that every piece of content you produce has the right keywords integrated into the content. Selecting the right keywords is crucial – you want to use keywords that your potential customers are already searching for. To do this you need to do some research.
There are a ton of paid-for and free keyword research tools. Google Planner is one of them. One of my latest favorite keyword research tools is keywordtool.io. It’s free to use — but if you really want an edge on your competition, you can upgrade to the pro version. One of the nice things about Keyword Tool is you can not only search for keywords on Google, but you can also find keywords that are frequently searched for on YouTube, Bing, Amazon and the App Store.
When selecting keyword phrases to use, don’t just look for the most searched for terms. Those terms are usually highly competitive and it will be difficult — if not impossible — to rank for them. Instead, look for “long-tail keyword phrases.” These are keyword phrases that have several words in them and they tend to be less competitive but are still words that your target audience is searching for. For instance, if I’m a locksmith I could try to rank high in my local community for that keyword “locksmith,” but depending on how many other locksmith’s are in town, it might be difficult. Instead you’d want to use long-tail keyword phrases like “24 hr locksmiths,” 24 hour locksmith service,” “how to open a locked door,” etc. You get the idea.
Just look at the possible keywords you could use when writing a blog post about what to do if you lock yourself out of your house:
By providing valuable information to your potential customers, they’ll be more likely to remember you when they do need a locksmith.
Integrate your keywords naturally into the content (keeping SEO always in the back of your mind.) These days you can’t keyword stuff your way to the top of the search engine rankings so don’t overuse the keywords. Make it all sound natural to the reader and keep the flow of your content moving along.
It’s recommended that each content piece focus on only one or two keywords. Use synonyms of the keywords that you’re targeting (i.e. “unlock a door with a credit card” or “use a paperclip to open a door that’s locked.”) There’s always multiple ways to say the same thing without reusing the exact same keywords over and over.
Compelling Headline and First Paragraph
If you don’t capture someone’s attention within a few seconds, they’ll leave and move on to the next website. So come up with a catchy headline that uses keywords effectively as well as makes the reader curious. For instance, “How to Cook Dinner for Four for Under $15” would be something that would be of interest to people who are interested in cooking, especially if they’re on a budget!
Make sure that the one or two keyword phrases you’re targeting show up within the first couple of words in the first paragraph — and bolding those keywords can often help send a signal to Google that that particular word is an important part of your content (which can help with SEO rankings.)
Write Like You Speak
There’s nothing worse than reading a “stuffy” blog post. Or one where the author is a renowned industry expert and the content oozes with conceit. Don’t try to impress people with your verbose writing or your use of industry jargon — write like you talk! (Sometimes it helps if you DO read your blog post aloud before you publish it. Not only can you catch typos and other mistakes, but it also gives you a sense of what the reader’s going to hear in his or her head when it’s read.)
If you’re in an industry that’s jargon heavy, but sure to do keyword research that tells you what people are actually searching for in your line of work. For instance, if you build large commercial and farm buildings and more people search for the term “pole barn” vs. the industry-preferred term “post-frame construction,” use the words pole barn as your main keyword phrase and tie it together by saying something like “Pole-barns (also known as Post-Frame Construction”) buildings are…”
Also, Google likes long content, so be prepared to write. On a home page it’s recommended that you have 1,500 words and on other pages write a minimum of 1,000 words.
Title and Description Meta Tags
There are special pieces of HTML code that you put on your website that only search engines can see. Two of the most important pieces of code are the Title and Description Tags. Make sure that each piece of content has a unique Title and Description Tag and that those tags pertain to what the piece of content is about. In the example below, here are the search engine results that came up when I searched for “restaurants in Dubuque.” The pink highlighted words are the Title tags for these sites and the yellow highlighted words are the Description tags.
In the example above you’ll see the ellipses “…” in the first search result. That means that their title tag is too long, so Google “truncated” it (i.e. cut it off.) Here are some guidelines for how long your Title and Description Meta Tags should be:
Titles should be kept to under 60 characters and your Description tags should be roughly 155 characters.
Try and stick to these numbers and, again, make sure the keywords you’re trying to rank for appear in the Title and Description.
Content Marketing is something that every business must do to stay ahead of their competition and get more customers. It’s not optional anymore – it’s a requirement. Let’s face it: Google loves new, fresh and informative content and so do your customers! So give them both what they want and you’ll be rewarded.
**Sherry Bonelli is the Local Search Evangelist at BrightLocal. She leads BrightLocal’s Research & Content programs and champions the needs of their SEO Agency and SMB customers. Having worked in digital marketing since 1998, Sherry has a Master’s Degree in Internet Marketing along with numerous digital marketing certifications. In her “spare” time she is a volunteer mentor for the SCORE East Central Iowa Chapter where she coaches small businesses on how to use digital marketing effectively. Sherry frequently gives workshops and speeches on digital marketing topics to local business owners. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.