It hardly needs saying that content is important for SEO: a properly structured site with frequently updated, keyword-rich content is the best foundation for high search engine rankings. Quality content that is interesting or useful to users also has an excellent chance of receiving unsolicited links, further enhancing a website’s ability to rank well for relevant searches. To maximize these considerable benefits, SEOs should take an aggressive, hands-on approach to content creation and promotion. Being involved at every stage of a website’s content development cycle offers the best chance of supporting in-house optimization efforts.
“Content” is, of course, a pretty broad label. While an SEO tends to think of content as text, a website’s content is the sum of everything that appears on its pages, from words to videos to buttons. Ultimately, non-textual elements such as images or audio files still form part of a website’s semantic universe and, if anything, should be singled out as content optimization targets. That an image lacks an alt attribute, or a webcast a summary or transcript, is nothing if not a lost optimization opportunity.
Regardless of the component parts, in-house SEOs are (unsurprisingly) best prepared to exploit the search engine value of website content. In terms of topicality, nobody knows a site’s keyword universe better, nor has a better understanding of what content users are searching for relevant to that universe. From a logistical standpoint, pushing content live may require work by copywriters, developers, designers – stakeholders an in-house SEO knows and works with on a daily basis. And strategically, it may well be SEO that is the driving force behind content development in the first place, simply because it is required to maintain or improve search engine rankings.
Chicken or egg? Content optimization vs. content development
Who owns content (particularly textual content) in your organization? Marketing? Merchandising? Public relations? A chief editor? As often as not, the answer to this question is poorly defined, split between numerous stakeholders, or simply unknown. Ill-defined content ownership often means an ill-defined content strategy, and this is both a problem to be solved and an opportunity for SEO.
I would argue strongly that SEO should take an active rather than passive role in content development. Whether or not this means “owning” content in the sense of being responsible for it, or simply being an important contributor to the content landscape, SEO needs to be involved strategically and tactically at many points in the content development lifestyle. Optimal content, in the holistic sense, will always perform better in search than content that is simply “optimized” after it has already been produced.
Whether taking a defining or contributing role in content development, there are points prior, during and after the production of content where in-house SEO should lend support and guidance.
Content topics and treatments
Content development starts with strategic planning, and it is imperative that SEO takes an active role in the planning process. This is particularly true when there is an initiative to expand a website’s content base by adding new content sections, or substantially revising existing content. There are a number of ways by which SEO can add value to discussions surrounding topicality:
- Provide topic suggestions based on keyword trending data, such as Google Insight for Search
- Use internal search and traffic metrics to reveal which topics are important to users
- Once a topic has been determined, provide actionable keyword analysis to writers
Based on your analysis and observations, provide page, post and section titles early. An SEO-friendly title, using important keywords, is not only beneficial for SEO in its own right, but helps frame the semantic nature of the content that’s produced. Without your input, the desired “Review of the New iPod Touch” may take life as “The Scoop on Apple’s Latest Music Machine.”
Content container architecture
Where will the new content live, and how will it be presented on the website? While SEO-friendly site architecture is a whole topic unto itself, often content development involves new page design, and at the very least, always requires integration into the existing site structure. Whether new page templates are being developed, or if this is simply an opportunity to improve the existing structure, there are a number of steps an SEO can take to help ensure SEO-friendly content containers.
- Ensure file names will be SEO-friendly, especially for static content where file names may be hard coded
- Ensure pages possess a sensible heading and sub-heading structure
- Define in advance how content will be integrated into the site’s linking structure
Coming late into the architecture phase can have very unfortunate consequences. I’ve found myself looking at videos without dedicated landing pages, page titles rendered as background images – even a blog created entirely in Flash where it was impossible to link to individual posts!
Publishing and indexing
Make sure your shiny new content is ready for the search engines, and expedite the indexing process in any way you can (particularly critical, of course, for topical news). Steps you can take to improve SEO traction and encourage rapid indexing include:
- Ensure the <title>, <meta> description, <meta> keywords and <img> alt attributes are encoded by an SEO prior to the content going live
- Ensure that XML sitemaps are updated
- Ensure that pings are sent for any syndicated content
- Notify the world about the newly-published content by linking to it, which can include highlighting it on a blog or news section, posting the URL on Twitter or pointing to the new content on a Facebook page
Process is important here, and ignoring it may dull the impact of excellent content. A page that is SEO-friendly when it goes live will perform much better in search than one where SEO tasks were deferred in the interest of expediency, especially for topical content. Ensure the process allows time for dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, ideally by making final SEO tasks part of the work flow.
The writers have really taken heed of your keyword analysis, and produced some fabulously rich content. The developers have gone the extra mile and produced an RSS feed from scratch, and now a site section of topical content is syndicated. Don’t simply pat them on the back and move onto the next task; provide them with feedback on what their efforts actually achieved in search. Provide writers and other content developers with:
- Reports showing organic keyword traffic to the new content
- Reports correlating conversions – purchases, sign ups, newsletter opt-ins, etc. – with keyword traffic
- Newly-achieved rankings in one or more engines (screen shots are great)
By providing this sort of data to your content partners, you’ll not only be acknowledging the importance of their work, but increasingly make them partners in search engine optimization efforts. I’ve known more than one writer that’s been initially indifferent to search marketing that’s ended up sending me search result screen shots. Sharing knowledge and success metrics with your extended team (i.e., virtually everyone) both empowers them and demystifies the SEO work they undertake.
In summary, in-house SEOs will see the ranking returns on an organization’s investment in content by making their presence felt in each stage of the process. If, as the adage goes, “content is king” for SEO, a successful in-house SEO should endeavour to become the king (or queen) of content.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.