Nine in ten marketers drive great returns from their content marketing investments. Central to this success is using keywords, metadata, and other forms of SEO within the content to ensure it gets served to the right customers at the right time. If you spend money regularly on online content, you must do more than write and publish it. This just isn’t enough in today’s ultra-competitive digital landscape. Content needs to be optimized for the search intent of target audiences, or it will effectively get lost in the ether and fail to drive any form of engagement. Even the best-written articles or blogs with compelling insights will struggle to gain traction if they don’t include primary or secondary keywords and metadata. Without this optimization, Google will not rank content for queries potential buyers input into search engines. If people can’t find content, it won’t perform well. It’s as simple as that.
Optimizing content to increase visibility in search engines is called optimization (SEO). Content creators and web designers adhere to multiple principles of SEO to ensure content marketing and web pages are fully optimized. These include optimizing site structure, navigation, and other technical factors. Hence, they feature near the top of Google’s highly-competitive search engine results pages (SERPs). However, “on-page” SEO is arguably the most fundamental aspect of optimization to get right, especially for content marketing.
On-page elements are very influential in SEO as Google’s algorithm, used to rank content, is heavily weighted towards keywords, titles, meta descriptions, headings, and tags. You can think of these elements as vital information that Google’s crawlers use to make sense of your web pages. Crawlers are bots. Google’s main crawler, Googlebot, will scan pages for keywords and metadata to determine whether it’s interesting and high quality. When content incorporates keywords and metadata effectively and uses authoritative internal and external links, it is more likely to rank on the first page of Google’s results.
Everything flows from keywords. When writing content, you need to include relevant keywords so people can find it when using search engines. If you go to Google right now and enter the short query “solar panels”, for example, you will see websites with published guides and advice about solar panels. This is because they have used the primary keyword’ solar panels’ and other secondary keywords to optimize blogs and articles specifically for solar panel-based queries. While they will likely have considered additional SEO tips, keywords laid the foundation for their search success.
Keywords not only optimize content for search, but they can also help to define a company’s broader content marketing strategy. SEO experts recommend conducting keyword research to find brand- and product-related keywords to this end. These keywords can be used to brainstorm topics for content marketing campaigns and then be included in articles and blogs for SEO purposes. It is important to generate quite a long list of keywords to work from – don’t just pick one or two.
But what makes an effective keyword, and how do you know it’s right for your business? As part of your research, you should use SEO tools to analyze keywords ‘volume’, ‘relevance’, ‘difficulty’, and ‘intent’. Search volume indicates a search term’s popularity, i.e., how many search queries it has appeared in over a specific period. Using the ‘solar panels’ example again – this would be a very difficult keyword to target as it already has a very high volume. The same applies to short keywords like ‘bike’ or ‘car’.
Marketers often try to target keywords with a slightly-lower difficulty as a result. However, there will always be a trade-off between relevance and intent. Lower-volume keywords are often “long-tail”, meaning they have three or more terms. An example of this for bikes would be “road bikes for experts”. It can be easier to target long-tail keywords as they are less competitive, and while the search traffic for these will be lower, they can pay dividends in driving traffic to your website.
Search intent is another important consideration when creating a list of keywords. Search intent is a term that has grown in popularity in recent years. It defines the intent of the search engine user when they enter a query. The intent is usually either transactional, informational, or navigational. When someone enters a question saying “best solar panels to buy now”, that is transactional as they are looking for content and links that help them to make a purchase immediately. In contrast, a “what are solar panels” query is informational, and a searcher will be looking for guides, FAQs, and tutorials.
Knowing the target audience’s search intent helps you create a more tailored list of keywords and better materials for content marketing. When you satisfy search intent, you can be sure you have provided value and an excellent experience. Just think of how people express their search intent as keywords. You can use keywords in your content to get them from search engine results to your web pages and then to your checkout or contact form.
Relevance is another vital factor for keywords. You will need to select terms closely related to the content you are writing, or a mismatch will translate into poor rankings in search results. If you want to target the long-tail keyword “best pasta recipes”, writing a blog about pizza will not be advisable. The keywords should be closely aligned to the topic to make it relevant for search engines and readers. After selecting relevant keywords, you can develop a few variations or synonyms to make the content more interesting while optimizing for SEO.
Creating buyer personas can also help with keyword research as you will have a clearly defined target audience documented, ready for you to reach and engage. A buyer persona is a target customer with specific details about their age, gender, income, goals, challenges, values, and fears. If you know what your target audience wants, it is easier to develop keywords and content that satisfy their needs and address their challenges. Are there pressing problems or questions your customers regularly cite? Using keywords in your content can help to answer these.
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Meta information is another essential component of SEO but is designed primarily to help search engines rather than readers. Meta tags, which include titles and descriptions, are short snippets of text or code used by SEOs to communicate the contents of a particular web page or blog to Google. The meta title is just another term for the title of the page. Every blog will have a title, but you must optimize it correctly for search. This means writing unique tags with a target keyword that is 60 characters or less long, ideally matching your identified search intent. A vague or generic title can work against you as it won’t effectively communicate to Google or users what the content is about.
The meta description is slightly different, and while it’s not visible on the web page, it will be shown as a snippet in search results. In its best practices for this element, Google says: “A meta description tag should generally inform and interest users with a short, relevant summary of what a particular page is about. They are like a pitch that convinces the user that the page is exactly what they’re looking for.” The meta description should be 160 characters or less and quite descriptive – what makes this page unique, and what topics are covered?
Google has confirmed in the past that the meta description is not a direct ranking factor, but its bots use it to understand the context and relevance of a web page. As the search giant says, it also acts as a promotion of sorts to searchers who will see the snippet in SERPs before clicking through to the content. Google’s Ann Donnelly has also commented that meta descriptions are vital for “getting traffic to your site”. Optimizing content for metadata is important, then.
The main meta information SEOs will optimize the title and meta description. Still, various other “tags” can be tweaked and updated to increase content visibility in search engines. These include the canonical tag, alternative text (alt) tag, and robots meta tag. Engineers usually optimize these tags rather than creatives such as copywriters or marketers. However, doing more advanced, technical SEO to improve the quality and speed of web pages is also very useful.
It must be stressed that keywords and other forms of optimization cannot brute force a poor piece of writing into content that will rank in the number one spot for a query in search results. Google regularly states that publishing high-quality content is the best way to improve rankings, which means crafting compelling and memorable copy that prompts a visitor to take action in some form – by commenting, sharing, and even completing a purchase.
Keywords can play a major part in this process and are vital to search ranking success, but effective SEO must always supplement excellent written or visual content. You cannot have one or the other and expect content to perform well. Engaging copy can get lost without SEO, while “thin” content will struggle to cut through the noise even when optimized correctly. It’s clear then that using keywords in any content published online is critical. Without them, a page will fail to achieve its objective of engaging users and being “value-added” in some way, either by educating, informing, or educating them.
If you want to conduct keyword research to improve your content marketing, downloading several keyword research tools is the best place to start. Tools such as Moz, SEMRush, and Google Ads Keyword Planner can all help you create and manage keyword lists. When searching for a keyword in SEMrush, for example, you will see a complete rundown of that keyword covering metrics such as global volume, keyword difficulty, keyword variations, related keywords, and intent. You can use these metrics to see whether there is any potential for using the keyword in your content.
SEO tools will also enable you to analyze competitors to see their target words and explore questions your target audiences are already inputting into Google. You can use this information to create a keyword list for your SEO strategies. Remember, it’s incredibly difficult to drive a return on investment from your marketing spend if you are not using keywords and analyzing how they perform.
Now that you have started adding relevant keywords to your copy, you will see a significant improvement in the rankings of your content. Google regularly releases updates to its search algorithm several times a year. These “broad core” updates can be rather disruptive and result in your losing ground in rankings or getting a boost. Google says the best way to respond to these changes is by focusing on high-quality content creation, which keywords are a part of. Optimizing content for keywords should be an ongoing process, so always be ready and willing to research new terms and topics to retain a competitive edge in search results.