Which Content Marketing Strategies Have the Biggest Impact on Keyword Rankings?

The term “content marketing” is a wide umbrella.

It encompasses a plethora of different strategies and techniques.

But at the end of the day, one of your primary goals is to create content that ranks as highly as possible on search engine results pages (SERPs).

This is important because organic traffic is the number one means of generating traffic for many companies.

A study from The Bright Edge even “found that organic search drives 51 percent of all visitors to B2B and B2C websites trumping all other non-organic channels.”


This means one thing.

You need to figure out the relationship between content marketing strategies and keyword rankings.

This is instrumental in fine-tuning your content marketing campaign and finding the right areas to focus on.

In this post, I analyze data from multiple studies and draw on my own knowledge and experience to give you a clear idea of the content strategies demanding the most attention.

So, let’s see which strategies have the biggest impact on keyword rankings.

Rich content

I won’t waste your time telling you about the importance of creating quality content.

You already know that.

But I’d like to share with you this statistic from an infographic on Quick Sprout:


That’s a lot of links!

And I’m sure you know the integral role links play in SEO.

This graph from Moz illustrates the importance of links and their influence on Google’s algorithm:


Let’s put this information together.

When you create rich content, it gets you more links.

These links improve your overall SEO, which improves your rankings.

So, being diligent about achieving and maintaining rigorous quality standards should be of the utmost concern.

Long-form content

Here’s the deal with long-form content.

It’s hot right now. Scorching hot.

I remember a few years ago when your average blog post was only somewhere around 500 words.

But if you look at the vast majority of content that ranks on page one of Google SERPs today, it’s rare that you’ll find anything under 1,000 words.

To prove just how important long-form has become, I would like to show you a couple of graphs.

The first is from a fairly old (September 2012) article I wrote on Quick Sprout.

I got the data from research performed by SerpIQ:


As you can see, every single piece of content that ranked on the first page had at least 2,000 words.

More specifically,

The first result typically has 2,416 words and the 10th result has 2,032 words.

Newer research (September 2016) from Brian Dean of Backlinko shows a similar pattern:


According to his research,

The average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890.

That’s over 500 words fewer than the original research from SerpIQ indicated back in 2012…526 to be exact.

But it still shows us long-form content is a key element in achieving solid rankings.

Why is this so?

The way I look at it, there are two main reasons for this phenomenon.

First, people have a tendency to scan through content these days.

Few actually sit down and read a 2,000-word piece word for word in its entirety.

Instead, they scan through and look at the sub-headers that grab their attention and may read little snippets of text from there.

Long-form content facilitates this new method of reading.

Second, a longer word count tends to translate into more links.

And this makes sense.

The more content you provide, the more opportunities for it to be linked to.

Put all this together, and you can see that long-form content means higher rankings.

Who knows, the whole “long-form content bubble” may pop in a few years.

But it’s stronger than ever at the moment.

However, it appears that the ideal word count has been reduced considerably, and you should aim for just south of 2,000 words.

How do you create 2,000-word content?

  • Decide on a specific and narrow topic.
  • Create a compelling title.
  • Discuss the issue from every angle.
  • Provide as much detail as possible.
  • If possible, provide step-by-step instructions on how to do something.

You should never stuff your articles with words just for the sake of hitting a word count.

But you should strive for detail, depth, clarity, and mastery of a subject matter.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about long-form content. When you truly make an effort to provide value in your content, it expands in length.

That’s not to say that you can’t provide value with a 400-word article.

But the level of value created in a 2,000-word article is usually much greater.

Content with “topical relevance”

But the plot thickens.

The same Backlinko article also points out that

content rated as “topically relevant” significantly outperformed content that didn’t cover a topic in-depth. Therefore, publishing focused content that covers a single topic may help with rankings.


Topical relevance basically combines my first two points of creating rich content and long-form content.

It simply means that Google values content that’s comprehensive and that thoroughly covers a topic.

This means it’s best to focus on a single topic for each piece of content you create.

Rather than bouncing around from subject to subject, you’re better off going all in on a single topic and leaving no stone unturned.

Does this mean you can’t discuss other topics?

No. In fact, you should touch on as many relevant topics as possible! But your focus should be on a single topic.

If you feel you need to cover a topic you weren’t able to get around to in the post, create a separate piece of content and cover it in-depth as well.

Using long-tail keywords

This strategy has been in existence seemingly since the dawn of SEO—back when SEO was in its primordial soup stage.

One of the main ways small-scale marketers have been competing with the big dogs is by using long-tail keywords.

And why wouldn’t they? It freaking works.

In fact, I’ve been using this strategy for years.

I even used it to grow my search traffic by 51% in just three months!

And guess what? It still works brilliantly.

An infographic from Adept states that “pages optimized for long-tail keywords move up 11 positions on average, compared to just 5 positions for head keywords.”


It’s really not rocket science.

Using long-tail keywords means less competition, which means a greater likelihood of achieving a favorable ranking.

The awesome thing is that long-tail searches account for roughly 70 percent of searches:


This means there’s plenty of opportunity out there.

Of course, you won’t get the same volume of traffic that you would for a head keyword or broad keyword, but you can still generate some sizable traffic if you do your keyword research and choose a phrase that receives a reasonable number of searches.

Check out this post from NeilPatel.com for a step-by-step walkthrough of integrating long-tail keywords into your blog posts.

The process is fairly straightforward:

  • Do your typical keyword research (using Google AdWords Keyword Planner or your preferred tool)
  • Select the long-tail keywords from the list (3 words or more)
  • Use these keywords in your content.

Image-rich content

If you haven’t heard, people respond positively to images.

It’s true.

And although I think the whole visual-centric discussion has been done to death, I would like to reference one more point from the Backlinko article I mentioned earlier.

According to Brian Dean,

Industry studies have found that image-rich pages tend to generate more total views and social shares.


But here’s the interesting thing.

Using at least one image is much better than not using any images at all.

However, they couldn’t find a correlation between the total number of images and rankings.

That means there’s no proof that using a lot of images will improve your rankings any further.

In other words, using just one image would in theory have the same effect as using 10 or more images.

The key takeaway is this:

Using a single image is clearly better than zero images. Including lots of images doesn’t seem to have an impact on search engine rankings.

When it comes to my posts, this information isn’t going to stop me from sprinkling plenty of images throughout my content.

In fact, you probably know that many of my posts are jam-packed with images.

I think my audience enjoys the “eye candy,” and graphs in particular are excellent for explaining fairly complex concepts.

But keep this in mind when creating your next piece of content: going nuts with images probably isn’t necessary.

Direct answers

If you’re not sure what I mean by “direct answers,” it’s simple.

Google is now starting to show direct answers when you use a “how to,” “what is,” “who is,” etc. type of search.

Here’s an example:


The first thing that pops up at the top of the page is a clip from the top ranking site.

It’s a way to streamline the process and offer searchers direct information without them having to actually click on the link.

Of course, oftentimes they’ll still click on the link to find more in-depth information.

I know I often do.

So, here’s the deal.

Providing a direct answer can be beneficial and a viable strategy for killing it on SERPs.

If you can provide a quick, logical, and direct answer, especially for a long-tail keyword phrase, there’s a good chance you can get your content featured at the top.

Just be sure your direct answer transitions smoothly into the rest of your content.

Here’s how I typically use this strategy:

  • Identify a question marketers are asking.
  • Create an article answering this question.
  • Provide a step-by-step solution to the issue.

When I follow this three-step process, the articles I write on those topics usually rank on page one for the associated keyword within five days or less.

This is the primary technique I’m currently using on NeilPatel.com, and it’s earned me over 800,000 unique monthly visitors.


I value objectivity when determining the approach of my content marketing strategy.

I find that examining the cold hard facts clears most biases and preconceived notions I might have.

This is important because this gives me the clearest path to achieving my goals.

While there are countless factors that contribute to keyword rankings, the ones I listed here appear to have the biggest impact pound-for-pound.

Putting your attention on these key areas should ensure that your content marketing is heading in the right direction while giving you the best chance of climbing in the SERPs.


  1. J. Ustpassing :


    Hardly surprising – content that generates links improve rankings.

    Long form:
    As far as we know – there is no length specific algo. The size of the content is a by-product of the depth/quality, and the result is … {drum roll} … links.
    Of course – that’s assuming the longer, more in-depth content is not 2K words of dribble sprinkled with the primary and correlated terms.

    If you’ve ever looked at NLP, you will know that there are co-occurring terms that pertain to various topics. It’s a fairly solid approach to identifying topic/theme/domain.
    So not a surprise that an SE would take such an approach (at the very least, it can aid in categorising the content for a specific theme … if not gauging the scope/breadth of the content based on the quantity of related terms etc.).

    Long tail:
    Again – hardly news … longer target terms generally mean far less competition for that term, less abiguity for the topic/subject, and in some cases improve relevance.

    Image usage:
    Not sure if there is a specific signal here or if it is similar to the long-form … it could simply be sympto-matic… people like images, and link to content with them.
    That said, we know that G pay attention to things like URIs, including those in resources such as images (plus alt attributes), so there is some ranking benefit – we just don’t know how far down the path G have gone.

    All in all, nothing new or even close to surprising.
    1) Identify keyword/phrase you want to rank for
    2) Identify subjects/facets around that word/phrase
    3) Generate questions about the subjects/facets
    4) Create content focused on that question
    5) Incorporate synonyms, co-occurring, associated, related terms/phrases
    6) Optimise content (title, URI, headings, image filepath/name, alt attribute etc.)
    7) Optimise on-site (internal link text, links from related content, links from popular/ranking pages etc.)
    8) Watch as rankings increase

    Obviously (8) is heavily reliant on links.
    The sad truth is that you can create the best content on the planet about “subject X” … if no one links to you, you probably won’t rank that well for it.

    That’s where Content Marketing comes in 😀
    Promoting your content in various ways, in numerous places that generates relevant traffic … some of which that will generate links.

    • Appreciate the feedback and will take it on board.

      • J. Ustpassing :

        It was just a little confusing – the topic concept is awesome!
        Seeing what CM methods have the greater impact on SEO is a cool idea.
        But then it focused on varied content formats, not marketing 🙁

        So either it was the right content and the wrong title,
        or the right title and the wrong content.
        Both parts are good – they just didn’t quite fit right 😀

        What you posted wasn’t wrong – it was accurate!
        Those things do hold influence regarding ranking, and the general influence from promotion is links.
        So it’s still a solid piece … maybe you did what I do and conceive, start to create and go off on a tangent (major flaw of mine, and I often forget to review the title afterwards!).

  2. It’s funny… Since removing your website form input your comments have dropped significantly.

    • I have to try ways to protect against attacks of spam. 🙁

      • J. Ustpassing :

        No shortage of methods… depends on the type of spam.

        Include the input, just don’t set it as a link (or nofollow it automatically).
        Set a timer from hitting the page to submittal – if it’s less than X seconds, reject.
        Run a count on the number of pages hit within the last X seconds, and reject if over a threshold.
        Keep a log of spam-IPs and auto-block (or don’t load the form etc.).
        Keep a log of spam-domains and auto-block (or don’t load the form etc.).
        Add a checkbox for “human” (or set it as “not-human”, hide it from view and let the bots fill it).
        Use an IP/UA black list (plenty around).

        Manual Spam?
        Find the common terms in the posts and filter based on those.
        Limit to N comments per N time period.
        Keep a list of Spam Domains/IPs/Poster names etc.

        Depending on the type of spam, there other methods I can suggest 😀
        Most of them are simple enough and not resource intensive.
        Individually, most are weak – but when you start combining them, you suddenly start reducing the % of spam quite a bit.

  3. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for the great article.

    For the Direct answers you mentioned in the article, is there any special format or markup needed so that Google can grab the answer?

    • It will depend on the answer your giving but yes you will need to structure the code with HTML properly.

  4. Aira Bongco @BoostBlogger.com :

    Does that mean that it is all about the way you create and structure your content? Does that determine whether or not you get ranked? I think that it plays a vital role but it is not the only factor. We must not forget that promotion must still be done for any content to be ranked.

  5. Rylee William :


    Thanks for the great article.

  6. Its really amazing blog with very much helpful information, thank you so much for writing this great blog here for us.

  7. Upendra Gusain :

    Looks great! Most of the things are same which I have read on your previous posts in NeilPatel.com and in this blog.

  8. Frederick Alonso :

    Thanks for this great post. Awesome stuff. I also figured out that long tail keywords changed a lot in a positive way for my website.

  9. Thankyou for sharing good contentbased artical. It is used by my sites.

  10. Emma Williams :

    Thank you for sharing this useful information regarding Content Marketing Strategies and Keyword ranking. These tips would help us revise the Content Marketing Strategies and hence improve the keyword ranking of our business websites.

  11. Cristina Sliva :

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  12. Shivani Sharma :

    Thanks for sharing this informative blog. This blog is very useful for everyone. keep it on.

  13. Bhavik Solanki :

    This information very helpful for me. In this post give good explanation in detail helps me to easily understand this. It’ Wonderful post and step by step explanation. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  14. The main thing i learned that weather it is SEO or content marketing. everything depends on the keyword. A good keyword can make our task 50% easy and a wrong choice of keyword can ruin over all marketing tasks. Thanks for this valuable information once again. I have new website healthcabbage.com . I would definitely like to try these tips.

  15. tattoosbasket :

    🙂 thanks for sharing

  16. Content content content is king. Of course, you should combine it with the proper and long term keyword. Learn from blog like this and apply what you think is important. Happy learning guys!

    Anyway, you could let experts do the job for your if you value your time. I found this seodataservice website and they offer very affordable packages.

    Keep searching and improving your website or blog. 🙂