Why SEO matters as part of your content strategy

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SEO is one of the most misunderstood aspects of content marketing, but it's a truly powerful tool when used properly. We explain how it works – in simple terms.

Emily Tatti

There’s a lot to think about when publishing online content, and unfortunately the SEO part of the equation often gets treated as an afterthought. 

It’s understandable. Google keeps changing the rules, and this has created misconceptions about how SEO works in 2018. 

But it’s still so important to optimise your content properly. While paid ads and social media are great for driving new readers to your website, organic traffic is even better. Not only is it free and far-reaching, but it’s also a chance to reach people when they are most receptive to your help.

If you’re concerned you’re not doing enough with SEO, please read on. I thought I would clarify the basics before sharing some simple, actionable tips.  

Two women looking at their phones

First, the basics: how SEO works 

When people talk about optimising their content for search engines, they’re really talking about Google. While there are three main search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo), Google attracts the lion’s share (90.61 per cent) of the traffic.  

Google changes its search algorithm hundreds of times a year, but there are SEO fundamentals that always stay the same. They can be split into two categories – technical SEO and content-based SEO. 

Technical SEO is your foundation. If your website isn’t built properly, then everything else is irrelevant, and you’re going to have trouble getting your content to appear on the first page of Google. 

The main technical elements that effect your ranking include how quickly your website loads, how well your website adapts to mobile, and if there’s anything preventing Google from crawling and indexing the site, like bad page redirects, HTML issues, poorly structured URLs and no sitemap. 

The best way to tackle these issues is to work with a developer who knows how SEO works, though marketers can audit their website to find out what needs to be fixed. 

Once that’s taken care of, Google looks at how well your content is written and structured to decide if it’s rank-worthy. It gauges this according to how people are interacting with the page. If they’re not clicking it, or they’re bouncing off the page as soon as they get there, then Google assumes the content isn’t helpful, and it gets pushed further down the search results.  

How SEO benefits your brand

It takes time for your content to appear on the first page of Google, and this is where a lot of brands lose patience. If your website has high domain authority, then a new piece of content takes about two to six months to start ranking. SEO is a long game.  

But it pays off. Once you get on that first page, your brand is visible to thousands of potential customers for months at a time – and you don’t have to spend a cent. A study from Jumpshot found that the first 10 organic results on Google attract 62.2 per cent of all clicks. In comparison, only 2.8 per cent of clicks go to the paid ads on the top of the page.

New customers are also more likely to convert if they come from an organic search, because they’re searching for a specific answer to a problem, so they’re further along the customer journey. Digital marketing expert Eric Siu found that SEO traffic has a 14.6 per cent close rate, while direct mail or print advertising leads only have a 1.7 per cent close rate.

Where do keywords fit in? 

There seems to be a lot of confusion about keywords, so before we go any further, let’s debunk a few myths. 

The way people enter search queries into Google has changed. While once, they might have typed in a simple, one-word search term like “laptop”, they’re now typing in long conversational search queries like “where can I get a laptop fixed in Melbourne”, because they know Google is sophisticated enough to give them specific results. These long search queries are known as “long-tail” keywords, and they’re the phrases marketers incorporate into content.  

However, even this has changed. Until recently, it was common practice to include your keyword in certain sections of your content to maximise your chances of ranking (the title, meta description, first paragraph of the body copy and so on). But there are now hundreds of possible variations for each keyword, and Google has evolved to understand synonyms and different meanings. That means publishing engaging long-form content has become much more important than incorporating exact-match keywords. 

The top factors that impact your search engine ranking

In mid-2017, SEMrush looked at the main factors that have an impact on search engine ranking. 

The top five influences were:

1. Direct website visits
2. Time spent on site
3. Pages per session
4. Bounce rate
5. Total referring domains

Aside from direct website visits, which are driven by brand awareness, these metrics all measure the quality of your content.  

Interestingly, content length is now also more important than keywords. This makes sense – longer content tends to be comprehensive, highly useful, and organically full of the phrases that people are searching for anyway. 

All of this isn’t to say that keywords don’t still matter. Over 60 per cent of top 20 pages have their keyword in their title and 75 per cent have keywords in their body copy. But there’s a reason the phrase “topics over keywords” is starting to gain mileage in the marketing world. When producing long-form copy, keywords are better treated as thought-starters. Doing keyword research will give you an understanding of the topics your audience are searching for and the questions they’re asking. You can then create truly engaging, useful pieces around those topics. 

What you can do to improve your SEO now

If we use SEMrush’s findings as a guide, fixing these metrics should be your first port of call: 
An infographic featuring an SEO checklist for 2018 
Remember, these are the top five ranking factors: 

1. Direct website visits

What it means if it’s low: Readers aren’t familiar with your brand or they don’t know how to find you online. 

How to fix it: Look at how you can increase your brand awareness through online and offline campaigns. If your URL is overly complicated, consider changing it to something simple and memorable. Publish new content regularly so visitors have an incentive to come back once they find you. 

2. Time spent on site

What it means if it’s low: Users aren’t interested in reading your content all the way through.  

How to fix it: Look at your content and see how it stacks up against your competitors’ content. Is it telling readers something new and useful? If your competitors are having better results, look for a new and interesting way to deliver the same ideas (this is a technique called “skyscraping”). If you feel that your content is genuinely great, you might need to address the way it’s presented. Break up text with shorter paragraphs, and include high quality images, subheadings and dot points to make the page easier to skim.  

Your bounce rate also impacts this metric – all bounces count as zero seconds. So if your bounce rate is high, your time spent on page metric will be low.

3. Pages per session

What it means if it’s low: Users aren’t navigating to other pages on your website in the same sitting.

How to fix it: This could indicate that your site isn’t engaging users enough for them to explore further – so you may need to reevaluate what you’re publishing. If people are spending a lot of time on the page but they’re still bouncing afterwards, this could mean the navigation on your website isn’t clear. Consider introducing helpful topic tags at the bottom of the page, or links to related content to facilitate discovery.

4. Bounce rate

What it means if it’s low: Users are leaving your site after only viewing one page.

How to fix it: There are a few factors that could be at work here. Look at your headline – does your content match what it promises, or is it misleading? Is the navigation clear? If you have a pop-up or auto-play video on the page, this could be making people leave (exit intent pop-ups are better). 

5. Total referring domains

What it means if it’s low: Other websites aren’t linking to you as an authoritative source of content. 

How to fix it: If you have a lot of backlinks but they only belong to a handful of the same websites, then Google might think you’re up to something shady. Build relationships with other related websites that might be willing to include a link to your content. Neil Patel has some fantastic tips about getting in touch with other site owners. You can check your backlinks by visiting Moz.  

Hopefully that gives you a few things to think about as you develop your online content presence. 

Emily Tatti, assistant editor

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