Quit Hitting Your Brother: How Content and SEO Can Get Along

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Content marketers sometimes resist thinking in terms of SEO because it feels mechanical, like their creative output is being scripted. It’s about the narrative, man. 
At the same time, SEO managers can dismiss the value of weaving a great story and paying attention to the softer skills of building a voice, establishing tension, etc. Just obey Google already, and stop navel-gazing.
Who wins?
Fortunately, this is an unnecessary rivalry. Content and SEO go hand-in-hand, and they’re more compatible if you keep in mind some of the basic rules of the road.
Here they are. 
You’ve heard it before: Content is king. It’s true, but context is just as important. Writing for search algorithms will get you nothing (algorithms are not customers and they don’t have any money to spend), so try to see the world through the lens of your customer. Organize your keywords around their pain points, and craft your content around that structure. Don’t sprinkle in keywords throughout the text for the sake of keyword density. 
It doesn’t just hurt your story, you might get penalized for it. Search engines hate when you try to game the system, so just provide quality information that is relevant to your audience’s needs. Search engines can identify keyword variations to recognize relevance and understand what it is that you are trying to say. 
Support your ideas with not only external links to authoritative sites, but also internal links to related pages that your users will find valuable. And make your primary content at least 300 words long to ensure full search-engine penetration.
Title tags
Limit your title tags to 50 – 60 characters and position your keyword(s) toward the beginning of your tag to make sure it gets fully displayed in the search results. Be strategic with the wording. Does your brand name stand out when listed among your competitors? If so, including it in your title may give you an edge. Your audience will be more likely to engage with a trustworthy brand, but it’s key that it be placed at the end of the tag.      
Meta descriptions
This is your 160-character elevator pitch. While these are not directly considered within Google’s ranking algorithm, they inform relevancy to a user’s search. Consider updating the descriptions for any poorly performing pages and monitor the traffic for improvements. As an added bonus, any keyword in the meta description that matches a user’s search will appear in bold, thus improving the odds that your site will be deemed worthy of a click. 
Headlines (H1)
I’ve been asked if headlines and title tags need to be identical. The answer is no, but they should be similar. It’s critical that they’re both precisely describing what the user should expect and limit yourself to strictly one H1 per page. Avoid using gimmicky or “click bait” titles, like “You will never believe what this marketer found when he opened a direct mailer…” Your bounce rate will skyrocket and users won’t trust your brand after their lofty expectations aren’t met. 
Cheap tricks earn you cheap clicks and nothing more. Tweet that.   
Adding visual elements won't aid directly in driving significant traffic, but they can greatly improve your audience's experience and keep them engaged longer. As humans, we’re more likely to make emotional connections when there are visual stimuli. Powerful images inspire. Graphics convey ideas. Pictures of Trump’s hair make us laugh. To be sure that search engines can “read your images,” include descriptive alt tags. 
To avoid losing traffic from a lengthy load time, compress your images – especially any that are large, high-resolution files. Curious how your page’s load time performs? Use Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool to test both desktop and mobile pages and get helpful tips for improvement. 
Just as you wouldn’t put cheap fuel in a Ferrari, you shouldn’t hinder your stellar content with poor SEO execution. 
Remember that Google is smarter than you think, and its search algorithms reward great content, not scheming the system by loading up on keywords. This is good news, because it enables you to produce better work.
Super bonus revelations: For more on using content marketing, download our eBook, Building Online Audiences. There’s something for the creatives and the SEO junkies alike.