By Sean Van Guilder published April 21, 2017

5 Modern Content Marketing Best Practices for Getting Found

5-modern-best-practices-foundYou have a content calendar. You have a blog. You have a social media strategy. All you’re missing is, well, the big kahuna: audience share that reflects the value of all the fantastic content you’ve created to promote your brand and your services to the big wide world.

When it comes to content marketing, it’s imperative to stay current with SEO best practices to ensure that your content has the best shot of appearing high on search engine results pages. That means getting crazy smart about how search engines view your content, and how they prioritize rankings based on how helpful your content is at answering the question asked in a search.

How should you incorporate the best SEO practices so your content drives users to your site, and ultimately into those precious conversions you’re after? Here’s a best-practice guide to incorporating today’s SEO principles into your content marketing. To get started, we really need to …

Understand what SEO content marketing really is

Content marketing, of course, is the practice of creating organic content and publishing it on your own site or other online channels to attract users who eventually convert on your site (becoming subscribers or taking some desired action).

When you optimize for search, you’re really getting at the practice of making sure your content can be found by search engines, prioritized in results pages, and acted upon by the type of user most likely to convert once on your company’s website.

You might be wondering, “Isn’t all content marketing supposed to have good keywords already incorporated so that search engines can find it?” The reality is that SEO best practices have moved to a different level of sophistication, beyond simple keyword meta-tags in HTML code or sprinkled throughout your content pieces.

To be truly relevant today, a content marketing piece needs to raise its hand in the crowded universe of copy when a user is asking a question. That content piece needs to be the best answer to the question being asked.

When a searcher asks a question, your content needs to raise its hand in a crowded universe. @seanvanguilder Click To Tweet

Search engines use an array of techniques to figure out which content should be at the top of a search, including how many other people have the same question or a similar one answered via that content piece. That’s why it pays to …

Know your personas

Do you really understand the type of customers you’re looking to attract with your content? What position does this person have (decision-maker, influencer, company leader)? Where does this person work (down the street or across the continent)? What specific problem do you solve for this person?

By understanding these attributes, you’ll go a long way toward creating content that is optimized to answer the questions your ideal customer is likely to be asking in a search. Once you have a solid sense of the exact types of questions your ideal customer is asking, when you’re creating content, remember to …

Prioritize natural language

A magical thing happened to search in 2016: Mobile overtook desktop as the channel most likely to be used for online searches. Add in the voice-recognition software available today (Siri, Cortana, and all the rest) and then picture how somebody is going to look for a thing online. Will they talk in keywords or ask a plain-language question? If you answered the latter, you’re on your way to being an expert SEO-optimized content marketer.

Users today are picking up their mobile phones and asking things like, “What’s the best dry cleaner near me,” “How late is the library open today,” and, of course, “What are some SEO best practices for content marketing?” (Seriously, try all three right now and see how relevant the search engine results are for each question.)

That’s the magic of semantic search, also known as natural language search. We don’t speak in keywords. We speak in sentences. Today, search engines do the same thing.

We don't speak in keywords. We speak in sentences. Search engines do the same, says @seanvanguilder. #SEO Click To Tweet

Most often, a person is looking for an answer to a question. When you create content, be sure that you’re addressing specific questions that your ideal audience is likely to be asking. The more users who find you because you’re answering helpful questions, the higher your content will appear in search results, because search engines rank content in part by how many people found it valuable when asking a specific type of question.

There’s another secret to prioritizing language when creating your content so that search engines link a user’s question with your answers, and that’s making sure to …  

Format your content

Use your header tags wisely so they guide the user to see where to find the answer to their question. H1, H2 and H3 formatting isn’t just used for formatting pretty headlines; these tags are used to break up the content into scan-able sections for the engines and the users.

Your H1 headline tag should denote the most important, overarching theme of your content. Use H2 for subsections of H1 content, and H3 for subsections of H2 content.

In practice, that means checking in right now with your blogs, articles, and other content. Do your headlines reflect the actual questions likely to be asked by an ideal user? If not, get in there and reformat! Your headlines should be easily scan-able so that you’re effectively screaming on the street corner how valuable you are to a person asking the question.

Now, to be sure your content will be prioritized by search engines, it’s imperative that you …

Create a consistent content calendar

When it comes to SEO content marketing, your publishing schedule rules the roost. Consistent, regular, predictable updates go a long way toward convincing search engines that your content is fresh, relevant, and timely for today’s user. Google’s “freshness score” reflects timely and updated content – you want your freshness score to stay high.

Your publishing schedule rules the roost when it comes to #SEO content marketing, says @seanvanguilder. Click To Tweet

To accomplish that goal, post often, refresh your content regularly (new content should answer new questions that your ideal user is asking), and regularly add new pages to your website. Regular content updates will positively impact your ranking on all search engines. Make sure that your content calendar is well-organized and well-crafted. I suggest not only creating content regularly, but also tracking that content using metrics such as content type categories, frequency of posting, desired tone, call to action, URL (make them searchable), core keyword phrases, and a social media schedule to promote each post on your feeds.

“But wait,” I can hear you saying. “This sounds like a lot of work. How can I generate ideas that will help keep my content fresh?” For that, I direct you to …

Use online resources to identify ideas for content and keywords

Resources like Answer the Public, BuzzSumo, SEMRush, Google Trends, Google Alerts, Feedly, Quora, and Nuzzel act as idea warehouses to crowdsource information that people are talking about right now. Search them to find out what kinds of questions are being asked right now – by your ideal audience. A time investment of just a few minutes a day will yield enough content ideas to fill out your calendar with ease.

Use online resources to crowdsource information that people are talking about right now, says @seanvanguilder. Click To Tweet

It’s hard to keep up with the long list of SEO best practices for content, but these are a great place to start … for now!

Want to learn more about search and a lot of other helpful content marketing topics from industry experts? Register today for Content Marketing World – one track of many focuses on search – this September. Use code BLOG100 to save an additional $100 off the early-bird rate.

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Cover image by Kevin Phillip, publicdomainpictures.net

Author: Sean Van Guilder

Sean Van Guilder has been helping businesses get found on the internet for over 20 years. He has a 10,000 foot view of digital marketing that helps shed light on SEO as a business driver. Currently, Sean is leading the SEO Practice for premier digital marketing agency, Point It, in Seattle. Get in touch with Sean on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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  • Will Kersten

    Great article, Sean! In terms of SEO, what’s your take on reposting articles on sites like Quora and Linkedin? My personal site is new, with virtually no traffic yet, so I’ve been wondering if this is a good way to increase exposure. I just don’t want to hurt my SEO in the long run.

    • Sean Van Guilder

      Thank you, Will! I wouldn’t necessarily repost but repurpose your content. Use Quora to answer questions people have, on Quora, but use those questions to create content that you post on LinkedIn and your own blog, then find the appropriate hashtags on Twitter to increase awareness of your site and brand.

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  • Roger C. Parker

    Hi, Sean. Congrat’s on great pair of sentences, “Will they talk in keywords or ask a plain-language question? If you answered the latter, you’re on your way to being an expert SEO-optimized content marketer.” Overall, a helpful, organized, easy-to-read treatment of a complex topic.

    • Sean Van Guilder

      Appreciate it, Roger! I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Jodi Lifschitz

    Really great article! Informative, clear and a must read for any content marketer! Also, great click to tweets!

    • Sean Van Guilder

      Thank you, Jodi!

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  • http://www.Savvy-Writer.com/ Amandah Tayler Blackwell

    I really (adverb alert) enjoyed this article and bookmarked and printed it out, so I can refer back to it.

    My questions are: How do you convince someone that SEO best practices have moved to a different level of sophistication, beyond simple keyword meta-tags in HTML code or sprinkled throughout your content pieces? Or that a robust content calendar is necessary?

    • Sean Van Guilder

      Thank you for the kind words, Amandah. I’m glad you found it useful and insightful.

      Your questions are ones that many people struggle with answering. Thankfully, being that I work for an agency, I have a wealth of real-world data showing the success through case studies.

      For situations where case studies aren’t possible, I would recommend sharing articles with your marketing teams from the VP on down. Articles such as this one as well as those in the industry and from other websites like Search Engine Land and Moz.

      It is beneficial to pull someone into the conversation that has experience that can also teach that someone from a technical, as well as, marketing perspective.