SEO is a tried and true tactic in content marketing. Everyone does it—from the solo marketer to the seven-figure agency. No matter your budget, you can win by executing SEO really well. We’ll explain the hallmark rules for optimizing content that ranks in this guide.
Though editorial SEO can take at least three to six months from publication to see results, it’s absolutely worth it. It can drive sustained growth in the long run, without having to spend thousands on paid ads or expensive agencies. There’s a lot of varying advice out there when it comes to best practices, but today we’re cutting through the BS.
SEO articles can drive organic traffic by ranking in the first results of the SERP for certain keywords. That’s a mouthful, so let’s break it down a bit. In general, there are three types of SEO:
This article will focus mainly on editorial SEO, explaining best practices to use such as topic clustering, technical optimization, internal and external linking, and more.
Before we go further, remember that SEO is not…
The best way to rank content for keywords is to write helpful content for people. For example, if the keyword “Content Director Salary” shows pages with a chart showing a salary range, you should also create a page with a chart using your own data. Persistence and originality will help SEO pay off.
SEO is the practice of improving your website’s content ranking on search engines. The higher the ranking, the more likely people are to find the website. Rather than staying in the bubble of your existing audience, SEO can help you expand your reach.
If you’re a content marketing manager, winning at SEO could help you hit KPIs, negotiate a raise, or get a promotion. By optimizing content for SEO you can increase the number of people who see your content, become familiar with your brand, and adopt what your company has to offer.
The first step to writing an SEO article is to know what keywords you want to rank for.
“Keyword research is search engine optimization's bread and butter. Without the right keyword targets, you won't drive qualified traffic to your website,” explains Claire Beveridge, Content Marketing Consultant with 10+ years of SEO experience.
To start creating SEO content, you’ll need a basic tech stack. Some of the best tools for keyword research are:
I’ve found Keywords Everywhere to be the best value for a team with a small marketing budget. It’s a Chrome extension that, when toggled on, gives you the search volume, SEO difficulty, and related keywords in Google.
You can see that the keyword “Content Director Salary” is pretty challenging to rank for. If Superpath wanted to own that keyword, we wouldn’t let the difficulty deter us. But at the same time, we’d try to rank for less competitive, related keywords.
Once you have keywords in mind, you can repeat the process of Googling to find volume and difficulty, figuring out search intent, and grouping keywords together when possible.
Another way to find keywords is to look at what competitors are ranking for. Here’s how to check for competitors’ ranking keywords in Keywords Everywhere:
That’s keyword research in a nutshell—playing detective and trying to find keywords that make sense to write content around. As we’ll explain in the next section, the days of writing a page for every single keyword are long gone.
Before 2008, companies tried to make a page for every keyword. But after the 2008 Google Panda update, having duplicate or redundant content on a site could hurt rankings. Now it’s better to cluster similar keywords by topics and have pages around those clusters.
For example, if the keywords “Director of Content Marketing Salary, Content Director Salary, and Content Marketing Director Salary” showed similar pages in the SERP, these would all go on the same page. The individual page can rank for 200 to 2000 variations of a keyword.
“Keyword topic clusters help search engines to understand the hierarchy of content on a website, allow search engines (and users) to find relevant content, easier, and should create opportunities for natural internal links. Alongside this, using keyword topic clusters can help to build topical authority—if you comprehensively cover a topic within that cluster,” says Freelance SEO Consultant Natalie Arney.
Each page with have themes around those keyword topic clusters, and your page should match the search intent around those different themes. For example, if pages in the SERP for “Content Director Salary” include a section showing the highest-paying states for content directors, you’d want to include a similar section on your page.
A good place to start with technical SEO is to do a technical audit via Screaming Frog. This will tell you if there are any bugs, broken links, or errors on your site. You can do a free site audit on Ahrefs as well. Once you fix any existing site errors, make sure each piece of new content is optimized.
Below is a simple optimization checklist to follow that SEO Consultant Sreeram Sharma posted in the Superpath Slack community.
Meta descriptions and SEO page titles help search engines find your content. They also give the user a preview of your content in the SERP and a reason to click through. As Sreeram says, you don’t need to overthink this. Just include your keyword in the meta title tag and meta description, along with a variation in the meta description to avoid keyword stuffing.
Alt text on images can be a good way to include variations of keywords too. I suggest using an optimization tool like SurferSEO to know which keywords to include in alt tags.
Google wants to see that your website pages are "talking to each other”. Internal links help show topical relevance and contextual connections between two pages. The key thing to remember here is to link to other helpful content on your site, not to link for linking’s sake.
“My favorite internal link tip is to use the Google search operator site:example.com "search term" to find pages on my site where I have talked about "search term" before,” says SEO Copy Editor Greg Bussmann.
Optimization tools can suggest internal links as well—as you can see in the screenshot above from SurferSEO’s Grow Flow feature. SurferSEO helps with optimizing individual pages as well and starts at $60 per month (a lot cheaper than comparative tools like Clearscope which start at $170 per month).
Proper headers can help search engine crawlers quickly analyze a site and correctly index it to the SERP. Try to include keywords and related keywords in your headers and put them in descending order.
“If you manage to use heading elements effectively, you’ll be able to deliver a—all else equal—better experience for your reader. This translates to improvements in key on-page metrics, which could also boost the page’s performance in search,” says Jon Gitlin, Content Marketer at Workato who hosts the Content Career Show podcast.
Google’s most recent 2022 Helpful Content Update caused quite a stir in the content marketing community. The general idea is that Google is trying to push out “search-engine first” content and prioritize “people-first content.”
Many people interpreted this to mean that Google is prioritizing content written by people (not AI writing tools), but this was never confirmed. It’s essentially trying to rule out content from “SEO farms” that reword content from top-ranking pages.
Some pointers for writing with this recent update:
Note: The latest Google update from December 2022 includes E-E-A-T, which counts extra e for experience. This is not referring to user experience, but if the person writing actually has experience, whether with the product, personal experience, or subject matter expertise.
The purpose behind a searcher's query, or the goal that they are trying to achieve by searching, is search intent. For example, someone searching for "buy content marketing courses" is likely looking to make a purchase, while someone searching for "content marketing trends" may be looking for information or reports.
“Practitioners must think about the intent behind each keyword i.e. what is the searcher actually thinking when they Google this keyword? What action are they trying to take? What information are they looking for? This will help drive qualified, high-intent fueled traffic to your site,” Claire adds.
It won’t always be so obvious, but understanding intent can help you to create content that better meets the needs of your audience and improves SEO. The easiest way to figure this out is to look at the top three to five pages that are ranking for a desired keyword(s) and define the type of page that keeps coming up.
Many people make the mistake of starting SEO too early. If you’re short on a marketing budget, SEO is the path to long-term growth, right? Truth be told, a site needs some authority to start ranking.
You need at least 1,000 page views per day from traffic sources that are not from organic search, according to Ethan Smith, CEO of Graphite, who appeared on Lenny’s Podcast in an episode on SEO. You can check page views on Similarweb or Google Analytics.
While you wait for your page views to grow, you can publish thought leadership and other content types that help get your brand name out there. Grow your audience and give them helpful content before worrying about search engines.
In the same podcast episode, Smith says you need at least 1,000 referring domains in addition to those page views. Sometimes sites will naturally accumulate links just by people talking about them (we’re very fortunate to have this happen at Superpath). Other times you’ll have to actively pursue mentions and links.
Some white-hat link-building techniques include:
The key thing to focus on when building links is niche relevancy and domain rating of the site you’re getting the link from. A link in CNBC will have more “link juice” than a few links from smaller publications. At the same time, a super niche relevant smaller publication’s link could drive qualified leads to your site.
Camden Gaspar, the Content Marketing Manager at IoT platform Particle, has taken a thought leadership approach to SEO content which he’s talked about in a guest post for Superpath.
For example, in this guide on choosing Cellular vs. WiFi for IoT, he frontloads value for the reader in the beginning by giving a quick comparison of the two options. He breaks down the criteria of the comparison into the H3s such as Cost, Reliability, Location detection, etc.
The quick comparison leads to a more detailed comparison with pros and cons, and the final part of the piece goes into in-depth use case examples for both Cellular and WiFi options. Overall, the piece feels like a deep dive into the topic, but also gives an option for readers to get a quick overview in the beginning.
Google’s algorithm rewarded this piece with a featured snippet, showing the long-form, deep-dive approach is effective for this keyword.
Alex Kracov, the founder of the customer collaboration platform Dock, has used the Superpath marketplace to source long-form guides and templates that are SEO-optimized to drive long-term growth.
For example, this massive B2B Sales Guide with 100 Resources for Top Sales Teams is ranking on the first page of the SERP. It’s an ultimate guide to sales resources, but it starts with a thorough explanation of B2B sales and B2B vs B2C.
It’s essentially a curation piece that gives resources for everything from ICPs to sales culture. I use this piece as inspiration for “best of” listicles, like this guide for Content Marketing Salary Negotiation: 20+ Resources to Get Better Pay.
Growth acceleration agency MINUTTIA created a great hub page for Viral Loops called Product Launch 101: Guide with Templates, Checklists & More which they talk about in a topic cluster webinar for Superpath.
The layout is simple, with the following structure:
Simple works—this hub page ranks for 2,400 keywords, with 136 keywords in positions 1-3. Each cluster page, called chapters on this page, has the same layout:
It’s a great example of how you can connect hub and cluster pages in a way that feels intuitive for the reader.
Here are some Reddit posts, articles and courses that’ll help you get a deeper grasp of SEO.
Happy ranking! Although SEO might not show results overnight, your hard work will pay off in the long-run. As the old saying goes, good things take time.