Content marketing is a lot like the real estate industry — landing a spot on page one is like scoring beachfront property.

Location is key. But if you’re creating great content and you don’t have SERP rankings, it’s going to be hard to see ROI.  On the flip side, if you have content ranking but the content isn’t fully satisfying search intent, readers will likely bounce and find a better piece. Leaving you without any conversions or payoff.

The benefits of content marketing may be clear, but you need to have a solid foundation in strategy, creation, optimization and analytics if you want your content to reach its full potential. We gathered six essential content marketing best practices to create a winning strategy that drives visibility and organic results.

1. Create a Clear Strategy

To create a strategy that satisfies content marketing best practices, you need to have an in-depth understanding of your brand, target audience and your offerings. Your content should always have:

  • Some tie back to the services or products you offer
  • Consistent branding (in the copy and design)
  • Relevance to your target audience

Look at what you offer and who your customers are to create a handful of content categories that will resonate. If you don’t know how to start your research, try searching different terms relating to product offerings or general topics on AnswerThePublic. It will generate a variety of related terms and phrases. See a search for “landscaping” below.

Screenshot of Answer the Public as a content marketing best practice for strategy and research

From there you can start building out your ideas through keyword research, which we’ll cover below.

2. Invest Time in Keyword Research

Find different keywords that fall under the overarching categories that you’ve decided on. Keep these keywords organized in your own tracking doc or use the rank trackers that come with your content marketing tools.

Keyword research can be conducted with a variety of tools like Ahrefs and Moz or even free tools like Keyword Surfer and AnswerThePublic. When using these tools for organic keyword research, look out for these main keyword elements (using Ahrefs for the following examples):

  • Search volume (SV): Average monthly searches for a term
  • Click volume (CV): Average monthly clicks for a term
  • Keyword difficulty (KD): How hard it is to rank for (the lower the number the easier it will be to rank for)

Use existing information to your advantage. Check out customer reviews, feedback and comments to see if there are any common questions or topics that come up. Use Google’s auto-fill to help you find queries.

In the example below, we took the mission of Imperfect Foods (“Eliminate food waste and build a better food system for everyone”) and used it to find relevant blog topics. Please note that SERP results are personalized by user so try using keyword research tools for a more accurate view since they show the average results across users.

Keyword search screen shot

Different keywords lend themselves to different content types (e.g. some fit promotion while others are better under the category of SEO). Ideally, you’ll be able to create content that is both optimized and shareable so that it can be promoted but also rank and gain organic links and traffic.

While examining keywords you should also be thinking about how the keyword best fits into content.

  • “How to reduce food waste” (SV 1k, CV 960): This should be a priority to rank for and needs a shareable element since the keyword difficulty is high at 53. Building organic backlinks will be key in ranking for this.
  • “How to reduce food cost” (SV 40, CV N/A): Though the search volume is small it could bring in qualified leads of people looking for more affordable food options, it could also lend itself to an interactive food budget calculator to increase shareability and target additional keywords.
  • How to reduce food waste in America” (SV 0–10): The phrase doesn’t have notable search or click volume but could inspire a news-worthy, shareable city study examining the most food-efficient and most wasteful cities or something of that nature.

Find your competitors (if you haven’t already), both in content and in your offerings, (they may not always be the same). Check out your competitors’ rankings and keywords to inspire and inform your own list.

Below we look at Misfit Market’s blog. We found this competitor simply by searching “Imperfect foods versus…” in Google and letting autofill do the work. You may not always see homerun topics but it helps you see which types of content resonate in your industry.

A screen shot of Ahrefs view of top pages

Try the “Top pages” view as well as the “Best by links” or “Best by links’ growth” to find different successful pieces.

3. Establish Your Publishing Pace

In order to establish readership or a solid following, you need to establish a publishing pace. You can’t expect to establish a reader-base if you’re publishing sporadically. Followers or subscribers want to have an idea of what they can expect.

Not only does this help readership but it also helps with scheduling your content calendar. We typically brainstorm content 3–4 months in advance so content has time to rank. This is especially important for seasonal content but not so much for evergreen content.

content marketing best practices for planning content, a timeline. Use this loose framework to plan your content based on your desired publish date: Brainstorm: 3–4 mo. out | Duration: 2–4 hours Schedule: 2–3 mo. out | Duration: 1–2 hours Research and write: 1–1.5 mo. out | Duration: 1 week Design: 3–4 weeks out | Duration: 4–5 days Review period: 2–3 weeks out | Duration: 3–5 days Final edits: 1–2 weeks out | Duration 1–2 days Push live * Note: If you’re promoting a piece tied to a holiday or season, aim to have it live at least 1–1.5 months in advance of when it’s relevant so you have time for outreach

Shoot for quality over quantity. It’s much better to have two solid posts per month versus several thin pieces of content that don’t provide as much value. Thin content is content that is thin in word count but mainly, it doesn’t add value to your site — it’s not driving traffic, links, conversions or any other value.

We like to think of blog content like a library of information versus a news publication. If you start pumping out thin content you’ll likely see lower returns and eventually have to fix or redirect those pieces, so it’s better to put the work in up front.

4. Consider User Intent

Your audience should always be at the top of your mind through the entire creation process so you can create content that actually connects. Think about the topic you’re covering and where in the buyer journey a particular topic fits.

For example, if you specialize in credit repair then the topic “what is a credit score” would be a great beginner topic to cover. You may not come across readers that are in need of immediate credit repair but down the line some readers may need assistance. Someone asking this basic of a question isn’t ready for advanced credit information rather the fundamentals, like how the score is calculated.

Focusing on user intent as a content marketing best practices

Notice how this design highlights important information and adds value to the piece as a whole. Design is an integral part to the user experience and should be considered when thinking about the intent of the reader. Ask yourself:

  • What are users looking for when they search the target keyword or phrase that you’re covering?
  • How can you best answer their question or fulfill the intent?
  • What can you add to your piece of content that provides more value than what currently exists?

If you’re not going to fulfill search intent and add value while doing so, then why would someone choose your content over a competitor’s piece? Content creators should always strive to create something better than what’s already out there. Once you know that you can nail the user intent, you want to make sure that it’s optimized to rank.

5. Optimize for SEO, but Don’t Overdo It

Write for people, not robots — in other words, you don’t want to produce a piece so rigid and SEO-optimized that it feels like it was written by a robot. You can satisfy SEO while also making the piece enjoyable and engaging.

We usually create an outline that helps break down the SEO elements that we’d like to include (like long-tail keywords, potential internal links and potential headers). Outlines are not set in stone, you should always feel free to modify or move elements to make a piece flow better.

The SERP provides a lot of context clues on user intent and the necessary SEO elements as well. When examining the SERP you should look out for:

  • The nature of a query (are the results product-based or education-based?)
  • Commonalities in the ranking titles and URL slugs
  • Recurring sub-topics and headers
  • The average word count needed to satisfy the query
  • Questions that appear in the “People also ask” box
  • Additional ranking elements like a video carousel

If you were creating content for an HR company, you might consider looking into topics around disgruntled employees. In addition to examining the query in a keyword research platform, you should look at the SERP for clues about the content must-haves.

content marketing best practice screenshot of looking at SERP signals

Beware of over-optimization (unnatural use of SEO elements). Over-optimization is most commonly caused by keyword stuffing, the overuse of target keywords. You can avoid this by writing copy that naturally weaves in keywords, using synonyms and other long-tail keywords along with the target keyword and prioritizing the user rather than prioritizing SEO.

Design and optimization of your blog also play a big role in ranking, an incorrect blog setup can hinder your ranking power and visibility even if your content is spot-on. Consult SEO experts to ensure that you’re on the right track from the beginning, large updates can be costly, time-consuming and can hinder performance.

6. Set Baselines and Track Results

While thinking through your content strategy best practices and building out your plan you should also solidify your content goals. What does a successful content strategy look like to you? Consider setting goals around engagement, traffic, backlinks and conversions.

Of course, your goals and tracking methods should be tailored to your site but you can look to similar sites to provide insight.To get an idea of expected results, find a site in the same industry that has a similar domain authority and a content strategy that you admire (or one that has high blog traffic).

Search the site on Ahrefs, click on “Organic search” and see the growth chart under “Organic traffic” to see their traffic trend and if there is any content or campaign that can be traced to an uptick in traffic.

Add the keywords you’re hoping to rank for to the “Rank Tracker” in Ahrefs. It will keep track of overall movements, which pieces are driving the most traffic and other helpful metrics. Moz also has a great rank tracker equivalent. Check on your rankings at least twice a month and look for positive and negative movements.

Rank tracker screenshot of Ahrefs

Look for commonalities between your most successful pieces and try to figure out what’s not working in under-performing pieces. Consider keeping tabs on your close competitors so you can compare performance and growth. We recommend using the “Domain Comparison” function in Ahrefs as well as the “Content gap” to compare your site with your competitors.

Google Analytics is a massively helpful tool for tracking performance and troubleshooting issues. There’s a free Google Analytics Academy that will walk you through how to utilize the tool if needed. Once on your account, you should insert annotations to add context and mark changes like campaign roll-out dates and site-wide updates.

Be Ready To Adapt

Your content best practices will evolve along with the growth of your company or blog. Outside factors like algorithm updates may also influence the direction of your strategy and ability to hit goals. If you want to accelerate your organic rankings, try link-building strategies alongside your typical creation process and content marketing best practices.

Strapped for time? Siege has a team of outreach and content experts that can help build relationships with bloggers and outlets to build valuable, organic backlinks and take the stress off of your internal team so you can focus on making your business the best it can be.

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