The Other Side of Content Creation: Optimize for Search

The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing

Written by Neil Patel & Kathryn Aragon

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Planning and writing your content is only part of the process. You also need to optimize it so people can find it in search engines.

There are rumors that SEO is dead, especially since Google's Panda and Penguin updates. But nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, well-written, well-optimized content is the best SEO possible.

So in this chapter, we run through the basic tactics you need to use to make sure your content is well received by search engines and readers.

Shall we start?

On-Page Optimization

Generally, we look at optimization in three phases of content creation:

  1. The planning stages.
  2. When we select keywords.
  3. After writing.

Too much focus on SEO during writing can tempt you to write for search engines rather than people. And Google has made it clear that they reward useful information (content that helps people), not SEO-bait (content that aims at Google) when it comes to ranking in the SERPs.

As a result, we assume you'll spend the majority of your SEO efforts after writing. Here's how to do it.

  1. Decide on the keywords you want this piece to rank for.

    On-Page Optimization #1

    In Chapter 1, you selected keywords that you want your website to rank for. You content should use these same keywords (and similar ones) that will drive traffic to your website.


    Note:

    If you want to see what people are searching for when they find your website, check out Alexa.com or Google analytics.

    1. Select one primary keyword (or phrase) for your current piece of content

      On-Page Optimization #2

      Based on your final draft for this piece of content, select a keyword or phrase that occurs naturally throughout the content. If it appear in your title, even better.

    2. Evaluate that keyword from your reader's perspective.

      Will they search for that term? Or are they likely to use another word or phrase? Select two or three possible keywords.

      For instance, will people search for "lead," which is a technical term. Or will they search for "opening"?

      And is "landing page" or "sales page" searched for more often?

    3. Visit Google.com/Trends.

      The Trends tool can help you determine which keyword is best for your target audience. Enter the words or phrases you are considering for your content. Click "Explore."

      On-Page Optimization #3

      In this example, the writer is trying to determine whether more people are searching for "landing page" or "sales page."

    4. Review the report that Google generates.

      On-Page Optimization #4
    5. Select the keyword or phrase that you will assign to this piece of content.

      On-Page Optimization #5

      Notice that "landing page" appears in searches far more than "sales page." Of these two choices, it makes the better keyword.

      Of course, sometimes it isn't this obvious a choice. You may choose one keyword because it aligns better with your brand promise.

      Or you could decide to test different keywords, choosing one now and changing it later if it doesn't perform well.

    6. Record your choice it in column F, "Keywords," of your Editorial Planner.

      On-Page Optimization #6

      You may select your keywords before you start writing, or you may wait until your content is written, as we did here. Either way, make sure you include keyword research in your process.

      The Keyword tool may help you find longtail phrases that people commonly search for. Keep in mind that longtail phrases may increase your chances of ranking well for the phrase, but fewer people will search for it — and they may not search for the exact phrasing you choose.

      Select a phrase that has the syntax and wording people are likely to use in a search.

  2. Optimize your title

    On-Page Optimization #7

    Include your primary keyword once in the title. More than that may be perceived as "keyword stuffing."

  3. Use your keywords naturally in the content,
    but don't overdo it

    On-Page Optimization #8

    Your keywords should appear naturally in the context of your content.

    Use the exact keyword and synonyms without stuffing your content with them. Google penalizes over-optimization, so don't overdo it.

  4. Link to other related pages in your website

    On-Page Optimization #9

    By linking to other pages on your site that provide additional information, you avoid "duplicate content," which Google penalizes. You also add link juice to the pages you're linking to.

    Internal linking lowers the number of people who visit one page and clicking away from your website. This improves your bounce rate, which helps you rank better with Google.

    So make the effort to find other pages you can link to.

    On-page optimization has little to do with keywords. But if you select a keyword for each page, it can help you stay focused. The key to on-page optimization is to make each page about one topic and to provide as much useful, unique content about that topic as you can. Avoid duplicate content, linking to other pages rather than repeating the information provided.

    To truly optimize your content, though, you need to think bigger than the individual Web page. Optimize your entire domain for best results…

Beyond the page:
Make your website a hub

This concept of being a "hub" or "authority" is the reason we asked you to create a core message in Chapter 1.

Google gives rank to Authority sites and Hubs. But in order for them to identify you as one, you must produce a lot of useful content about your core topic. Everything you produce needs be relevant to that topic so Google can easily identify the topic that you have authority in.

This aspect of optimization relates to your domain authority rather than page authority. However, it needs to be part of your overall strategy because your pages will rank better as your website's authority increases.

Let's start by defining terms:

Hub v. Authority

  • Beyond the page: Make your website a hub #1

    An Authority is a website that other high-value sites link to. It is seen as a leader in its space.

    Authority sites have a lot of relevant pages on their core topic(s) and are trusted by their followers.

    They generate a lot of inbound links without asking for them.

  • Beyond the page: Make your website a hub #2

    A Hub is a site that connects people to useful resources in their space, particularly Authority sites.

    Hubs produce a lot of content, and people see them as a resource, but they may or may not be recognized as an Authority.

    Hub sites have a lot of outbound links to other respected sites in their space.

    So how do you develop status as a Hub and/or Authority?

  1. Produce a lot of useful,
    relevant content related to your core topic.

  2. Continually refine your internal linking strategy.

    When you develop content, link it to other pages that deal with the same topic. Then add a link to your existing pages, linking them to your new content.

    By linking related content, you help Google see that you are an authority in a particular topic. Without these links, search engines see only individual Web pages, not a cluster of related content that could signal Authority in that topic.

  3. Link to Authorities.

    Try to make your own site relevant to leading websites in your space.

    If another brand publishes a study, report on it to your readers.

    When you produce content that references other sites, link to it.

    Link to high-value sites whenever possible, and only from high-value pages on your own website.

    This helps you position yourself as a thought leader in the same space. Your followers will trust the information you share, which will build your Trust rank with Google. It also helps Google see you as similar to the Authority sites you link to.

  4. Get hubs to link to you.

    As your own authority develops, other sites will (hopefully) find your site and link to you. Your goal is to have high-value sites (Hubs) linking to your pages.

    Furthermore, this goal should guide your content strategy:

    1. Always develop the highest quality content possible.
    2. Create content that invites links: book reviews, product reviews, interviews, and evaluations of what the leaders in your space are doing.
    3. After your content goes live, if you mention an Authority or Hub, send them the link to let them know about your content. They may choose to link to it. (We'll talk more about this in Chapter 9.)

      • This gives you an inbound link from a high-quality site.
      • It creates a digital connection between your site and a trusted site.
      • Beyond the page: Make your website a hub #3

        It builds your rank with Google.

Author Rank
and social media

When Google implemented "Search Plus Your World," it expanded the concept of search. The idea is that search results should be relevant to you, the individual searcher, not the general public.

But to generate more relevant results, Google needed to get to know you better. And how better than to include your social activities?

That may be one of the reasons Google launched Google+. Through its own social media site, Google can track your social activities to know what content is most relevant to you.

As a result, another important way to optimize your content is to set up authorship with Google. This allows you to connect your website and Google+ to deliver strong relevance signals to the search engine.

Here's how it works:

Author Rank and social media #1

When you do a Google search, Google doesn't just look for content that contains your search terms. It also searches your social connections.

Author Rank and social media #2

Anyone you're connected to in Google+ can show up on Page 1 of your search results — even if they aren't a thought leader in their space. Because they're connected to you in Google+, Google assumes they are relevant to you.

It works both ways.

You will show up higher in searches performed by your Google+ connections.

So how do you leverage Search Plus Your World to optimize your content?

  1. Create a Google+ profile if you haven't already.

    Start engaging with your Google+ connections if you have.

    Visit https://plus.google.com/ and create your profile

    You'll be asked for basic information about your story.

    Author Rank and social media #3

    Your tagline is your elevator speech: a short, to-the-point description of yourself and/or what you do.

    The introduction is where you get to wax poetic. Think of it as a bio. Give relevant details to help people get to know you.

    Bragging rights are the things you're proud of, both professionally and personally. A short list is fine.

    Click on the icons across the top of the banner, and you can also enter information for:

    • Work
    • Education
    • Places
    • Basic Information
    • Contact Information
    • Links
    • Apps
    Author Rank and social media #4 Author Rank and social media #5

    "Links" is where you enter information that helps Google identify your Author Rank:

    Other profiles lists your other social media profiles. Adding them here makes it easy for your followers to connect with you.

    Contributor to provides Google with a list of sites where your content may be found. (This is the key to Google authorship.)

    Google will add your website for you when you use the Google authorship tool. More about that in a second.

    And Links lists other sites you're interested in.

  2. Use the authorship tool to
    connect Google+ to your website

    Author Rank and social media #6

    Once your profile is complete, follow the four steps in Google's authorship tool to add your website to your Google+ profile.

    Visit https://plus.google.com/authorship and follow the four simple steps.

    This will connect Google+ to your website. But you also need to connect your website to Google+.

  3. Connect your website to Google+

    Option 1 (the technical option) – Enter the code on your website.

    If you're good with code, you can do this yourself. Here are Google's instructions, available in Webmaster Tools under the Link your content to a Google+ profile using rel="author" tab:

    Author Rank and social media #7

    Options 2 (the easy solution) – Use the AuthorSure plugin

    Author Rank and social media #8

    If you don't know code and you have a WordPress website, there is a plugin that will make it easy to set up authorship. It's called AuthorSure.

    1. Author Rank and social media #9

      Learn more about this plugin at http://www.authorsure.com/

    2. Author Rank and social media #10

      To download, go to the Plugins page of your admin panel.

      Search for AuthorSure. Then download and activate the plugin.

    3. Look under Settings in your admin panel to find AuthorSure's Options page.

      Author Rank and social media #11

      Once there, take a minute to sign up for their free video tutorials and setup instructions offered in the right sidebar. The information provided in these tutorials is really helpful and can save you lots of time.

    4. Now select your options for authorship on your website.

      Author Rank and social media #12

      First, decide where on each post you want to link to your author page.

      You can select:

      • Your byline, under the title of each article you writer.
      • A footnote saying, "Last updated by [author] on [date].
      • An author box with a picture and bio.
      • Your website's menu, which links to your "About" page as your bio.
      Author Rank and social media #13

      If you have a Google business page, you can set that up next. It's as easy as entering your Google page ID.

      Author Rank and social media #14

      Then you'll make some decisions about your Author page. Feel free to test different options until you find the one you like the best.

      For the rest of the options, you may simply accept the defaults. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click "Save Changes."

    5. Now it's time to create your author page. (You must complete this step!)

      Author Rank and social media #15

      Review and update your profile information.

      Then look at the contact information.

      Fill in your website, Facebook and other social URLs. The ones that you complete will show up on your author's page.

      Author Rank and social media #16

      The most important field is your Google+ profile URL.

      AuthorSure provides data fields for entering your Google+ profile URL, which is how it connects your website to your Google+ profile. So make sure to complete this step.


      Author Rank and social media #17

      To find your Google+ profile URL, go to your Google+ page. Click on the Profile icon in the left sidebar. You should land on your profile, with your banner and profile picture at the top.

      Now look at the URL. You should see something like this:

      https://plus.google.com/a long string of numbers/posts

      Copy the long string of numbers and paste it into the blank beside "Google Plus Profile URL."

      When finished, click the "Update Profile" button.

  4. Check out your new author page.

    Author Rank and social media #18

    You'll find it at:

    http://www.yourURL.com/author/
    yourWordPress-username

    Depending on the selections you made, it should look something like this.

    If you want to make any changes, simple return to your WordPress User Profile page to change your setting.

  5. Be an active Google+ user

    Google+ pays attention to your interactions. So get involved. Here are three simple ways to do that:

    1. Connect with other people, post comments, and respond to other people's posts.

      NOTE: +1 is the equivalent of a Facebook "like."

      Author Rank and social media #19
    2. Post comments that relate to your brand's core topic

      As a bonus, because your post will likely contain one of your target keywords, it could show up in the SERPs for that search term.

      Author Rank and social media #20
    3. Promote your content on Google+
      after it goes live.

      By posting it in Google+, you can help it rank better in the SERPs for your followers.

      Author Rank and social media #21

Optimize your comments

Most people recognize that leaving comments on posts by other brands is a way to build engagement with that brand.

What they may not realize is how beneficial it can be to optimize comments on your own blog.

Here's how it works: When visitors leave a comment on your website, don't just give a quick response. Instead, include keywords in your comments so you can optimize the page without being accused of over-optimization.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Always encourage comments.

    No matter what type of content you produce, encourage readers to respond. Ask a question or invite additional ideas.

    If possible, write posts to encourage comments. For example:

    • Don't try to provide all the answers in your post. Introduce an idea and let your readers contribute their own ideas.
    • Include comments from your Facebook page or Twitter feed, so your followers have additional ways to engage with you.
    • Include thoughts from other authorities in your space, and link to them. One of them might post a comment.
    Optimize your comments #2
  2. Respond to comments with complete sentences.

    Optimize your comments #3

    When people do comment, post an answer. But don't simply thank commenters for engaging. Respond to their comment.

  3. Incorporate keywords in your comments.

    Optimize your comments #4

    Here's where you can use comments to optimize your Web page. Answer in full sentences, with complete thoughts. And in your comments, include keywords that can help optimize your page.

    Don't overdo it, though. You want this to be a subtle tactic, nothing obvious.

  4. Encourage dialog.

    Optimize your comments #5

    As in your posts, post comments that invite dialog. Ask questions in your comments, for example, to start a discussion.

    Notice here that Russ answered donOld's question with another question… and donOld answered back.

    That helps put more keyword-specific content on your page, which helps it rank better in the SERPs.

    It works, too. At the time of this writing, this post ranks number one in Google for the topic.

    Because search now focuses on relevance rather than keywords, you can benefit from optimizing all online interactions, in particular, your comments on web posts.

    Strategic commenting on your own website can also help optimize your web page by adding more keywords to that page without looking spammy to search engines.

Guest Blogging for External Links

Guest posting on other sites may not seem like an SEO strategy. But with the changes Google has made to search, your authority as an author is critical to your ability to show up in search engines.

Publishing on authoritative sites a great way to optimize your own website because it builds your reputation as an author and creates an identifiable connection between you and the websites you guest post on.

That being said, you need to be careful about which sites you write for:

  1. Only guest post for websites that cover topics relevant to your core topic.
  2. Only guest post on high-quality sites.

In addition, be careful about your approach. Google has indicated they don't want unnatural, or manipulated, results and may soon penalize guest posting as a form of "payment" for backlinks.

  1. Build a list of possible guest blogging sites.

    You can do this in a couple of ways.

    1. Check out your Feedly stream for
      sites in your space that use different writers.

      Guest Blogging for External Links #1

      They may have a writing staff, or they may use guest writers. You'll have to visit their site to determine which.

      So visit the site and look for a link to guest posting guidelines. It might be labeled:

      • Want to write for this site?
      • Write for us.
      • Guest posting
      • Writer's guidelines

      Click through to the page and check out the requirements.

    2. Visit Topsy.com

      Guest Blogging for External Links #2

      Topsy is a social media search engine and can help you quickly identify sites that publish guest posts.

      In the search bar, type: "guest post" [topic]

      The results tell you which sites use guest posts on the topic you want to write about.

    3. Repeat that search in Google+.

      Guest Blogging for External Links #3

      The Google+ search has all the power of Google itself. So type into the search bar: "guest post" [topic]

    4. Make a list of potential guest blogging opportunities

      Check out each site to see if they have guest blogging guidelines.

      If they do, copy and paste the site URL into an Excel file. (We recommend adding a tab to your Content Plan document and pasting the information there.)

      How long should your list be? Make it as long as you can, with as many sites as you can find. (One hundred wouldn't be too many.)

  2. Perform some qualitative
    analysis of the sites you've listed

    Guest Blogging for External Links #4

    You need to determine the quality of each site.

    1. Look for their Google page rank for your core topic.

      Use the free tool at http://www.prchecker.info/.

      This tool ranks a website from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest quality.
      Select sites with a rank of 4 or higher.

    2. How much traffic do they generate?

      Guest Blogging for External Links #5

      Visit http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo to evaluate as many as five sites at once. Look for sites with a high Alexa rating or that have a significant number of visitors.

    3. Evaluate engagement levels.

      Guest Blogging for External Links #6

      Look at the number of social shares and
      comments they get.

      You don't need to avoid sites with lower engagement, but do be aware that your own posts will get less engagement on those sites.

  3. Select 2 or 3 sites to focus on at a time.

    1. Join their mailing list.
    2. Begin commenting on those websites
    3. Share content from those sites in social media
  4. Develop a list of article ideas for these sites

    Guest Blogging for External Links #7
    1. Look for ideas that will appeal to the readers of your targeted blogs and still relate to your core topic.
    2. Refine those ideas. Don't just develop a topic. Decide on your angle and list the major points you plan to make.

    Note:

    Use the same techniques you use to plan content ideas for your own website.

  5. Propose your article

    Pitch your article in the way specified in the guest blogger guidelines for each website.

    If they want you to submit a complete article, skip to set 6 below.

    If they don't have any specific requirements, try an email like this one:

    SUBJECT: Have you considered posting about [insert your guest blog post topic]?

    Hi [Insert their first name],

    As an avid reader of [insert their site name] I would love to read about [insert guest blog post topic]…and I think your other readers would as well.

    Your content on [insert existing post #1 from their website, existing post #2 from their website, and existing post #3 from their website] are great, but I think you can tie it all together by blogging on [insert your guest blog post topic].

    I know you are probably busy and won't blog on it so I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse. How about I write it for you? Don't worry, I'm a great blogger and have written posts such as [insert blog post URL #1] and [insert blog post URL #2].

    Let me know if you are interested. I already know your blogging style, plus I understand what your readers love…as I am one.

    Look forward to hearing from you,

    [Insert your name]

  6. Write content using all the steps you use in your own content

    Refer back to Chapter 4 if you need help remembering the creative process.

    In most cases, guest posts aren't for pay. But that doesn't mean you should write lower-quality articles. Your name is on the post, so make it the best you can.

    TIP: Keep it informative. A guest post should not be a marketing piece designed to drive traffic back to your site. Focus on adding value to your host website.

  7. Include a blurb that links back to your website.

    At the bottom of your article, include an "About the author" blurb.

    Generally, you're allowed two or three links.

    TIP: Don't always link back to your home page. Be strategic. If you have a page or article on your website that relates to the guest blog post topic, use that URL instead.

    Here are a few examples:

    Guest Blogging for External Links #8 Guest Blogging for External Links #9 Guest Blogging for External Links #10
  8. Add this site to your Google+ profile

    Guest Blogging for External Links #11

    Once you've published on a website, add it to your Google+ profile:

    This builds your authority as an author on reputable sites. And now that Google measures Author Rank, that's an important way to add relevance to your own domain.

Requesting external links

Since Authority sites have lots of external links, if you can secure links to your website from Hub sites in your niche, you can gain Trust points from Google.

Of course, Google frowns on any attempt to "buy" links. So avoid offering a value exchange to secure links.

Instead, request them. If you create a Web page that offers value to another site's visitors, or if you do a product review of one of their products, the site may be willing to link to your page.

Here's how to go about it:

  1. Develop some content to serve as "link bait."

    Focus on a particular person, company, or product. Then come up with content for your own website that also provides value to that site.

    Note:

    It should also add value to your own followers. Never put optimization above your visitors. Put their information needs first, SEO second.

  2. Publish that content and promote it.

    Write and publish a high-quality piece of content. Make sure it mentions your target favorably and that you include a link to that person or organization.

    Case Study:

    Requesting external links #1

    This post uses a snafu with HootSuite as a case study for listening to your customers.

    The post gives an honest account of the event and then applauds the company for listening and responding.

    You can read the entire post at:

    http://www.kathrynaragon.com/a-lesson-in-listenomics/

    After it was published, HootSuite left two comments on the post, both complimentary. Here's one of them:

    Requesting external links #2

    A few tweets followed:

    Requesting external links #3

    The post was then linked to from a roundup article on HootSuite's website, available here: http://blog.hootsuite.com/publisher-news-roundup/

    Requesting external links #4

    This one post got engagement and a backlink — simply by giving a favorable review to a new update by HootSuite. Not bad.

  3. Contact the person/organization
    and tell them you have it.

    In the case study above, HootSuite found the article on its own. But if the person you feature in your article doesn't find your content, it's acceptable to let them know about it.

    Your best bet is simply to mention that you published something that their readers could find valuable. Then ask if they'd be interested in linking to it.

    Your email (or direct message) might look something like this:

    SUBJECT: You were featured in a blog post today

    Hi [insert name here],

    I just wanted to let you know that you were featured today in my article, [insert name of article].

    I'd be honored if you'd take a minute to visit.

    [insert link here]

    And if you like it, I'd be doubly honored if you'd mention it on your own website or promote it to your followers.

    Thanks for all your effort making [insert their website here] such a fantastic resource. I continue to be one of your biggest fans.

    Cheers!

    [your name]

    One other option: Just ask

    Here's our template:

    SUBJECT: [Insert first name of website owner], I think I'm in love with you

    Hopefully I didn't freak you out by my subject line, but I'm really in love with you. Don't worry. It's not in a creepy way. Mostly I'm in love with your website, [insert their website name].

    You probably get tons of people every day who are in love with [insert website name], so I won't bore you with my reasons. Instead I thought I could show some appreciation by giving you some feedback on how you can improve your website.

    - [Insert suggestion #1]

    - [Insert suggestion #2]

    And if you are wondering how you can repay your biggest fan, feel free to link to my website [insert URL].

    Ah…just kidding, you've already done enough for me by making [insert their website name] so awesome!

    Cheers,

    [Insert your name]

    Three rules for asking for external links:

    1. Be very, very respectful.
    2. Make it favorable to them, not yourself.
    3. Be careful not to upset the Google balance. (Don't trade value for the link.)

See how optimization is changing?!

Notice we don't put a lot of emphasis on keywords. The strategies that get the most bang for your buck focus on building authority and social connections.

Certainly, perform some on-page optimization. But don't overdo it.

Then use these new strategies for building your online reputation:

  1. Create lots of content on your topic.
  2. Set up and develop Author Rank.
  3. Optimize comments and Google+ posts too.
  4. Guest blog for authoritative sites.
  5. Request links (or write content that invites them).

As you can see, SEO has changed. Google rewards high-quality, useful, relevant content. So the best optimization is to get really good at creating and promoting content.

You already know how to create high-value content. So now it's time to cover promotion. Chapter 9, "Promoting Your Content to Increase Traffic, Engagement, and Sales," will tell you everything you need to know.

Take a look…