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SEO Plan: Ultimate 15-Step Checklist


Editor’s note: Because search engine optimization continues to evolve and is essential in any successful content marketing plan, we’ve updated this post.

Search engine optimization (SEO) should be a linchpin in any successful content marketing plan. But with search engines updating algorithms on a frequent basis, how is a mortal content marketer supposed to keep up?

We’ve collected advice from Content Marketing Institute contributors that will help content marketers navigate SEO even as search engine optimization evolves. Check out the following SEO checklist to make sure your content marketing is set up for success.

1. Document your SEO strategy

Let’s start with your plan as soon as you finish reading this post: If you haven’t already done so, document your SEO strategy. Depending on how far along your company is on SEO, you may need to write a basic strategy first, and then revisit it after doing some work to audit and analyze your current SEO efforts and data (more on that later!). But, if you follow CMI at all, you should already know that documenting your content marketing strategy is essential for success, and your SEO efforts should be a key part of that strategy. Content marketers who have a documented strategy are almost twice as likely to report that their content marketing is effective compared to content marketers without a documented strategy.

2. View SEO and content marketing as partners, not opponents

You may have read or heard about a “debate” between SEO and content marketing. Agencies that specialize in one or the other discipline may benefit from creating a distance between SEO and content marketing. But this way of thinking can be detrimental to the success of your content. In fact, Barry Feldman goes so far as to call this siloed thinking “ridiculous.” As Feldman writes, “Content marketing and SEO do not compete with each other.” He continues, “If we’re creating content to support our marketing objectives, a vital part of our execution strategies should be focused on optimizations that will increase the probability that our content will be discovered via search.” So, stop wasting time wondering whether you should implement content marketing or SEO. These disciplines are melding together and will provide greater success if they can work in tandem.

3. Audit your SEO

A good first step for improving your SEO is to audit your existing progress. In an industry with rapidly changing algorithms, writes Amanda DiSilvestro, “Reevaluating your SEO and your strategies is one of the only ways to stay on top of these changes and continue to move your website content forward.” Check out her post for steps and tools to audit your SEO.

4. Use owned, paid, and earned media in SEO

There’s no set “first page” of search results anymore, writes Christopher Baldock in his post on using an owned, paid, and earned strategy for SEO. Just as owned, paid, and earned media all factor into any good public relations and content marketing strategy, they can help content marketers navigate increasingly personalized search results.

5. Consider the “4 Vs” of semantic search

Baldock also holds that, because of how personalized search is, the traditional metrics of page rank and keyword rank are no longer meaningful measures of SEO and content marketing success. As search becomes more focused on semantics, or the context of a search, marketers need to readjust the way they evaluate success. Baldock argues that marketers should measure based on four components: “volumevelocityvariety, and veracity,” which he contends should also be incorporated into how content marketers create and promote their efforts, as well as how they measure success. Jump over to his post for a more detailed breakdown of these terms and specific metrics attached to them.

What is semantic search? 
Christopher Baldock defines semantic search (often used interchangeably with contextual search), as “how search engines discern context and user intent to return more definitive answers, rather than the hierarchical list of guesses Google presented previously. Simply, semantic search helps Google present better results for any given search.” Let’s break that down:
User intent:
When search engines take user intent into account, that means two people searching for the exact same term could have completely different results. Results could be impacted by user location, search history, social media network, and “likes,” as well as many other factors, depending on the search engine’s particular algorithm.
In addition to the context of user intent, search engines are striving to incorporate the context of the content itself into search results. That means engines are moving even further away from simple keyword-driven search and into a more holistic view of content creation — such as using meta-data such as rich snippets, incorporating synonyms into search, and taking into account what other information appears on an entire site or page — to determine how relevant a result may be to the user’s intended search.
Better results:
“Better” results means more useful and relevant results. Search engines are hoping to anticipate user needs and provide answers, not just results. For example, when I searched for “election” one day after the midterms, Google displayed a large map that showed the breakdown of victories by party, and then news results. The map was followed by recent news. I got an overview of what happened in the midterms without even needing to click away from the search page. My guess is, after some time has passed, perhaps a definition of the word “election” would show up first.

election-search results11_16_14

6. Choose the right keyword 

Even though search is becoming more context-driven, choosing the right keywords and using them in an optimized way is still important. As Mike Murray says in his 12-step checklist for choosing the right keywords, “If you constantly create internet content without thinking through search engine optimization (SEO) and keywords, you will rank for something (content does resonate with search engine algorithms). Yet you will run the risk of shortchanging your SEO strategy.” Print out Murray’s checklist (below) and leave it on your desk when you need to research keywords for a specific page, so that you can be sure you’re giving your content marketing its full shake on search engines. You can also take a deep dive into keyword selection with Elise Gould: Check out her template for comparing keyword data.


7. Optimize your content

Once you’ve identified your target keywords, you have to be sure that your content is optimized for them. Kevin Cain breaks down finding and using keywords to optimize your content in a way that’s friendly for beginners, but also a useful reminder for experts.

8. Incorporate SEO into social

To succeed in the world of semantic search, your social media and SEO efforts must complement each other. Lee Odden breaks down why content marketers need both social and search to attract, engage, and convert customers.

9. Choose the right agency

Odden also covers the need to choose the right agency to manage SEO. He breaks down the difference between an SEO-driven and a social-driven agency in an easy-to-digest chart (below). As with SEO and content marketing, SEO and social media often end up presented as opponents, scrambling for a bigger bite of the budget; in reality, they work best together. If your agency favors one discipline at the expense of the other, you could be jeopardizing your content marketing success. At the end of the day, writes Odden, both SEO and social media “rely on content to achieve success.”


10. Take advantage of outside sites’ SEO power

Inbound links from earned, paid, and owned media are a huge part of SEO success. Mark Sherbin covers why content marketers should take advantage of a surprising SEO giant, SlideShare. SlideShare is built to be extremely search-friendly, which makes content posted on the site likely to rank highly on Google. Because presentations posted on SlideShare are automatically transcribed into text, search engines can surface relevant content more easily, than, say, slides that are posted on your own website with no transcription. Sherbin encourages content marketers to “think of SlideShare’s link juice as rocket fuel for the content you post on the platform,” and outlines six steps on “how to take SlideShare’s built-in search friendliness to the next level.”

11. Use rich snippets

Amanda DiSilvestro outlines a powerful search optimization tactic: rich snippets. Rich snippets are a way to mark up your content that will allow search engines to enhance their results listings displays. There are many different types of rich snippets; a few examples are video previews, images, and ratings. This data makes content more appealing to search engines, and, when it shows up alongside search listings, can help get more clicks from searchers. In her post, Amanda walks through how to use rich snippets, with the end result of making “your listing look more enticing and engaging than the average listing on the page.”

12. Activate your employees for greater SEO power

Paul Shapiro calls employees a “sleeping giant for content marketing SEO.” Content marketers already strive to activate employees on social media, says Shapiro — so why shouldn’t we place the same emphasis on involving employees in SEO? In his post, Shapiro covers how to encourage employees to join in your SEO efforts, from initial training to the benefits both your employees and your marketing will see.

13. Measure your success

Though it may be difficult to measure success when there is no longer just one set home page, there are ways to gauge search engine optimization success as it ties into your content marketing strategy. Arnie Kuenn walks through using one of the most popular (and free) tools, Google Analytics, to measure content marketing and SEO success. And, you can also jump back to Christopher Baldock’s post for specific metrics that remain meaningful even as search increasingly becomes semantics-focused.

14. Use SEO data to inform all content marketing

As frustrating as the ever-changing world of SEO can be, content marketers should rejoice about one aspect of SEO: There’s a wealth of data produced by SEO efforts that we can use to improve our other content marketing efforts. For example, Kerry Curran breaks down four steps to gathering and applying search insights that are useful to wider content marketing efforts. Curran includes tools like Google Analytics and comScore. Furthermore, Jey Pandian takes issue with traditional, vague buyer personas, and details a 10-step process to using search data to build more specific and practical buyer personas.

15. Keep learning about SEO

It would be naïve to think that the entire scope of SEO could be encompassed in any one post — or even in an amazingly thorough selection of posts (cough…those linked in this article, cough…). Check out the following list of a few blogs and resources to learn more about search.




Please feel free to add your resources and suggestions for search engine optimization in the comments.

In addition, to help you remember and follow these SEO best practices, the CMI team has created a handy infographic you can use as a reference — and share with your own content team.

SEO Clue - header image

Click to view the full infographic

Image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute