We’ve been thinking a lot lately about content marketing as it pertains to Search Engine Optimisation. Whether you’re a freelance blogger trying to provide SEO friendly copy, a web company trying to optimise your clients websites, a business owner trying to make the most out of your blog or really anyone involved with a blog, it can sometimes be hard not just to keep up with all the latest requirements from search engines but also to understand what the differences are when it comes to general onsite content vs content marketing. So on that note, we had a bit of a round table and put together what we think are the main points to keep in mind when blogging around keywords in 2018. So be sure to bookmark this blog as you should be able to implement quite a bit of solid best practice by following along!
Fact: SEO Ranking factors come and go. Content however is one of a few core SEO principles that hasn’t diminished in importance and likely never will. Sure, the nature of content has changed a lot over the years but this material is your website, so anyone touting the decline of it as a ranking factor is living in a fantasy world. It is THE most important aspect to get right if you want search engines to favour your site. They are in the business of serving quality results/content to their users after all. As we just stated though, even the more stalwart elements of Search Engine Optimisation are constantly evolving and for that reason, we thought we’d take a look at Content Marketing in particular as it pertains to maximising ranking potential in 2018.
Long gone are the days (as per this writer’s first business web design course in the year 2000) when vaguely relevant content sitewide (along with throwing a mess of keywords into the now-defunct “meta keywords” section) could ensure rankings. Google, in particular, is light years beyond what it was then in terms of assessing website content. These days one of Google’s main mission statements is to have their search engine “understand natural human language”.
It’s something they’ve made leaps and bounds in, as evidenced by the fact that at any given point during the work day I can turn around and speak to my Google Home device to ask it to change the music, give me the weather, or tell me whether or not it’s true that a hamster can run just as fast backwards as they can forwards. (Side note: They can).
So let’s talk about how best to blog for SEO in 2018.
1. KEYWORD ASSIGNMENT
As we’ve very simply stated already, much more thought needs to go into having a real plan around target keywords than it used to. We’re sure that as a matter of course your blogs would be more or less relevant (and we hope that you and/or your clients are blogging at least once a week), but without having a clear keyword assignment plan per blog over a good space of time (we generally recommend 6 months) you’re basically blogging into the ether and hoping for the best. Even if you do think about keywords per blog but don’t have a path laid out in advance you run the risk of an imbalanced relevance as most people who use this approach tend to have an unconscious bias toward particular topics.
It’s also important that this keyword assignment/blog plan take into account and connect to your Onsite SEO goals. One key thing we have found a lot of success with in terms of rankings for clients is that the types of keywords you target between onsite and blog content can be quite different. But let’s lay this out properly.
SO WHAT DO WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY “CONNECT YOUR BLOG’S KEYWORD ASSIGNMENT TO YOUR ONSITE SEO”?
Without spoiling our upcoming blog or getting too sidetracked into what some will already know about onsite keyword planning, we’ll work from the assumption that you have designed or redesigned your website with keywords and an SEO friendly information architecture in mind. During this process you will likely/should have done extensive keyword research in order to figure out the best way to build the site around the best possible/highest search volume terms. Some of these are likely quite general, with others a bit more targeted but also generally categorised well into themes in service of the broader keywords with higher search volume as they will naturally pass authority down the line to the more targeted related terms, meaning the relevance of the broader keywords onsite “bleeds” (for lack of a better term) into the lower competition/more specific pages categorised under it.
Once your website is optimal in this sense, it should be a natural next step that you begin to approach blogging. As you begin to explore target personality types more keyword research will likely result while brainstorming so this is an additional factor to take into account with blog planning, however most of these keywords should generally match up with existing themes selected for the website. The real difference will be in the way that you can select keywords for the blogs to essentially “fill out” your relevance in connection with the rest of the site.
What we mean by this is that while your site may target keywords such as “Industry X”, with “Product/Service theme X” as a category and “Product/Service X” underneath those, your blog has the opportunity to both beef up relevance for those terms with measured repeated mentions while also targeting as many related keywords and variances as possible over time. (You can view the image a couple of paragraphs below for more context.)
Figure: Website architecture and authority flow
Things like question based keywords such as “How much is Product X”, or “What should I look for in Service X?” as well as very specific search terms such as “Product X blue medium” or “Buy Product X in Brisbane”. Which brings us to a slightly controversial statement, but it’s an approach that we use regularly and have repeatedly seen positive results from:
Not all keywords you target with your blog have to have search volume.
Now we are by no means saying that you don’t need to worry about search volume. Far from it. But we are firm believers that targeting keywords such as these still serve to more fully flesh out your overall relevance for a theme (which will in turn help rankings) and should be utilised accordingly. Our logic for this is again Google’s mission statement to “understand natural human language”. If they’re looking to have their algorithm think like a normal human being would speak and a normal human being would use these terms, then either they are already factoring this in, or they will at some point in the future and it never hurts to future proof yourself.
Admittedly this is anecdotal evidence on our part for now, but we do hope to run more definitive tests in the near future and will be sure to keep you posted. But lastly on keyword assignment, you might be wondering…
…WHAT EXACTLY IS THE BEST WAY TO ASSIGN BLOG KEYWORDS?
One major part of this will be intuition. Possibly another controversial statement, but you’ll already know the money keywords from your initial onsite and personality type research (which you can find some great tools to get the creative juices flowing for here) so really it’s just a matter of making sure those appear in a good amount of blogs, preferably in an order that flows naturally from one theme through its sub-categories until you reach the next theme and then just assign a smattering of lower to zero search volume related keywords to the gaps.
Here’s a visual example before we dive into the next section:
Image: Except from a blog plan including keyword structure
2. WORD COUNTS AND KEYWORD DENSITY
You may be aware that in recent years (much to the chagrin of web designers everywhere) Google has favoured content with incredibly high word counts. To paraphrase research from a HubSpot conference we attended in 2015, the best ranking pages for mobile devices at the time tended to be around 800-1200 words, with Desktop proving more popular at around 2000 words. When it comes to blogs in particular, they still tend to suggest around 2100 words per blog, but there does seem to be a small amount of relief coming on this front, namely Google’s new “Mobile First Index”.
As per our previous blog on this topic, Google is now indexing the mobile version of your site with priority over the desktop version. If HubSpot’s research proves to be correct (and we have found it to be pretty spot on over the years), then it will make sense as this new way of indexing sites evolves that it will be safe to stick to the lower range in terms of word counts. This means 800-1000 words, however if you’re reading this blog then it’s important to note that it is 2,555 words long because that was the length required to explain all of this succinctly. Those counts did not come purely out of ranking assessments, they rank well because it’s a good amount of time to explain something properly, so use your best judgement because any situation that involves sacrificing quality for hard metrics may have the opposite effect to what you’re hoping for.
As for keyword density, there are a lot of different opinions out there, but we tend to stick to our (well proven) guns on this one.
You need to pick 3 keywords per blog. One main keyword and two related. This is to service the “natural language” requirements search engines have because people don’t usually speak using the exact same version of a term over and over again and related terms tend to be a part of the same conversation.
Once you have your keywords assigned the general rule is to have the main keyword appear 3 times per 800 words and each related keyword appear 1-2 times per the same word count. This frequency drops as you hit each additional 800 words. So once you reach 1600 words, the keyword should have appeared 5 times rather than 6 (so not exactly double for double the words). If you manage to hit 1400 words then 7 occurrences of the keyword is great, although at this point it again becomes a case of your best judgement given that you’re working with a lot of text and 8-9 occurrences wouldn’t derail anything. Just try not to have 10+ as then you’re starting to get spammy.
Ensure that all of your onsite SEO is correct. Have the main selected keyword in the Title Tag, the URL and the meta description, with one of the related keywords in the H1 tag. That last one is due to various research pieces over the years that we still believe to be current, but also just a matter (again) of intuition. Mixing it up a bit and not filling out this data like a robot helps and it’s fairly well established that all the other metadata should have the main keyword. It’s also important not to forget image and video tags, however at this point so long as they contain any of the three related keywords then you’ll be in a good position.
Repeat this process for every blog you have planned for the next 6 month via a spreadsheet that looks something like the one you saw above:
3. VARIED MEDIA
Of course it’s not all about keywords and word counts. Image and video search are, among other things, at an all time high and climbing. It’s a sadly overlooked element of SEO that is well behind where it should be in terms of attention. Correctly tagging images and videos is essential and we’re predicting that the penny will drop for the marketing industry as a whole some time soon, at which point everyone will realise that they should have been much more onto this a long time ago.
Think about the last site you saw that was just endless lines of text. We’re willing to bet that if (and that’s a big if) you managed to get through all the information, you complained about it afterwards. Content that is accentuated with relevant and engaging imagery is much easier on the eye and is well proven to increase user engagement and if it is tagged correctly (ie: utilising assigned keywords for image tags as outlined in point 2) then do not underestimate the power of image search to bring you business or good image SEO to help with rankings.
With regards to video, you’d be mad not to be utilising this to some extent. Users are much more likely to watch a video explaining the content on any given page than to actually read through everything. In fact as of 2018, fully one-third of online activity is spent watching video so it stands to reason. You can find some great up to date statistics on video marketing here.
Lastly on video, while tagging it correctly onsite is important, it’s also important that when you upload a video related to a particular blog on any video streaming platform, you again utilise the keyword assignment of the blog it’s related to when creating a title, descriptions and if possible the URL to the video itself if you’re going to have the embed able to be viewed offsite. Although for conversion rate optimisation reasons we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that in some cases.
4. EXPOSURE AND TARGET MARKETS
While some may still try to say that social media doesn’t affect SEO, the very fact that search engines mention the word “social signals” would beg to differ. Add to this the fact that activity on and around your website is a ranking factor and you have a very strong case for the idea that if you’re using your blog for SEO purposes, social media (along with any other channels through which you can present your articles) is an essential part of that. This also speaks to the idea that while you may be using your articles to rank better, this does not mean that you can sacrifice quality in order to meet technical requirements.
Our main recommendation to help you balance your goals on search engines with genuinely useful and engaging content would be to sit down during the planning phase of your content marketing plan and come up with target personality types (as mentioned in point 1 of this article). This can take the form of anything from a few nicknames (Soccer Mum Sally, Car Mad Colin) and their broader interests (Time Management, Tesla), through to much more extensive lists generated via data analysis of your website and various social media platforms. We’re not here today to explain exactly how to do this but we plan to in future. Just be sure that you have a good idea of who you want to target before you start writing.
The important takeaway is that when you’re assigning keywords to blogs, you should also be assigning personality types to each blog. This is one of the key ways to take your blog from boring SEO driven placeholder to genuinely useful and engaging, but SEO friendly copy.
That approach will also serve you well in the social media sphere. Your content will be more engaging and targeted to exactly the right people. Incidentally, we’d recommend you boost at least one post per week across your most used platform as you will be able to utilise that same approach to maximise chances of the target audience seeing it and increasing website activity while gaining ongoing followers as said useful information continues to appear.
BUT IS THERE MORE?
Of course! If we were to sit here listing out content marketing ranking factors down to the smallest detail then we would both be here for a very long time. But these are what we consider to be the most important SEO related blog elements and rest assured that we plan to blog further on this in time.
But what do you think? Have we missed any of the larger elements? Let us know in the comments! We’re always up for discussion.