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How to Plan Content that Wins at SEO

How to Plan Content that Wins at SEO

You’ve done your keyword research and found the perfect keyword to rank for. It has high search volume, low difficulty, and high intent to complete the desired action on your website. It’s the perfect keyword. So, what's next?

Those of us have been in the SEO space for a while remember the outdated (yet unfortunately still used) answer which produces a bunch of copy, disperse the keyword throughout, write killer meta tags, and throw it up on the site. The hardest part was the keyword strategy which has presumably already been done if you have a target keyword(s).

In modern SEO, the keyword strategy is still important, but the content planning is what will be the difference between achieving strong visibility in organic search results and ending up buried deep in the SERPs (search engine results pages). Remember that Google’s job is to examine a search query and decode the underlying question or request behind the query. You will need to do the same in order to get Google’s attention. This will be an underlying theme in this guide and something that should always be top of mind throughout the content development process.

What topics should you include?

When it comes to the topical relevance of the page, begin with the paradigm of reverse engineering the keyword to understand the intent. What is the person asking and what information and context will offer a comprehensive answer as well as provide the credibility to ensure satisfaction with that answer?

Let’s use the phrase “information architecture” as the example of a target keyword from here on out. The first step is to determine what they are asking or looking to find (and signals as to what Google thinks they are asking). In this case, it could be “what is information architecture?” or “information architecture best practices”. Reviewing the pages that currently rank at the top of Google and the snippets being used in the titles and descriptions of the results is a good way to figure out what Google sees as the intent of the query.

In addition to directly answering the intent of the search query, the right context must be provided that will:

  • Ensure visitors have enough context to understand the answer and be confident in its validity
  • Give visitors relevant information they may not have initially considered that will keep them engaged with your content
  • Answer any further related questions they are likely to have in mind to prevent them from returning to the search results to continue their research (pogo-sticking)
  • In order to provide a full context around answering the searcher’s intent and for further signals into the way Google is dissecting the query, the SERP often provides a golden egg in the form of related questions.

If these questions are included in the SERP, they make ideal subheadings on the page that should be answered in each corresponding subheadings. What better way to figure out the context Google finds relevant to the search query than when it’s written out for you in black and white?

What is the ideal structure of a content page?

Page structure should be based on the fact that different people consume content differently and that bytes of information are much more digestible that large blocks of copy for today’s average web user. Some users prefer to watch a video, others like to read, many prefer a visual representation of data (images/infographics). For this purpose, including all of these elements on a page opens up the possibility of engagement to more visitors and signals the search engines that the page provides a positive user experience for different types of users.

Ordered and unordered lists are great ways to break up large blocks of copy. Since these lists draw the attention of the user, they are great places to make a case for any action you want the user to take. They are also a great way to summarize a large complex thought on the page into easily digestible parts.

I’m not going to preach about the proper usage of H1, H2, etc. tags because I and many others believe that the proper HTML structure of these headlines and subheadings is far less important than the way they are rendered on the page, but just to keep everything buttoned up, use correct tagging. More importantly, ensure headlines and subheadings appear as such on a rendered version of the page. Keep each idea separated into tightly knit subsections with proper subheadings. Again, if Google provides “People also ask” questions on the SERP, use them as subheadings.

What is the Ideal length of a webpage?

When determining how long a page should be, the first thing to ask yourself is “how much content will it take to satisfy the intent behind the query?”.

I understand that the more analytical folks are not satisfied with this length recommendation and want hard numbers on which to base the content strategy. Earlier this year, SEMrush completed a study of 600,000 keywords and the pages that rank for them. The study found that the higher the volume of content on a page, the more likely it was to rank in the top ten results. The highest volume of pages ranking in the top 3 results had a word count range roughly between 650-850 words. Any content designed to rank for a specific keyword or keywords should fall in that range at a minimum.

How do I get my content into a featured snippet?

If Google is returning a featured snippet for your target keyword, there is an opportunity to overtake this coveted spot. This begins with reverse engineering the existing snippet to understand exactly what is causing it to occupy that space and also identifying shortfalls or opportunities to create something that would better fill that space.

Using again the example of “information architecture” as the keyword, there are several elements in the featured snippet to take note of and several elements on the page to consider. In this case, we see a block of text that is truncated as well as an image appearing in the featured snippet.

Be sure to take note of the word count to understand how many words Google is looking for to fill this space. You will see that Wikipedia’s content is being truncated. This is one of the opportunities to create something better. A targeted paragraph on your page that fits more closely to the existing character limit will allow for a more readable snippet and the possibility of being rewarded by Google for providing it.

If in addition to the featured snippet, if Google is also including related questions (the type to derive H2’s from), take note of those questions as they will be important when reviewing the actual page that is providing the snippet.

Looking beyond the SERP to the actual webpage from which the featured snippet is derived, there are some further elements to examine. Find where on the page the snippet is being pulled from. Identify the context surrounding the snippet to figure out how it can be replicated (without duplicating) and improved upon.

If there was an image in the featured snippet, find it on the page and note the pixel size and alt text. You will want to include an image on your page that fits the same pixel size. If alt text is missing, this is another opportunity to create something better.

Lastly, revisiting the related questions (if applicable) determine which, if any are answered on the page and to what extent. Again, this is part of mining for opportunities to create something better.

Regardless of your goals for web users, you will need to get them to your site and keep them there before they can take action. By following Google’s lead in understanding a searcher’s intent while providing the full context around satisfying that intent with easily digestible bits of information you can accomplish those goals.  

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 Marc Purtell

Marc Purtell

Marc Purtell is VP of Search Marketing at Direct Focus Online, an online performance marketing & technology organization. He can be contacted at marc.purtell@dfo.global.
 

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