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Content Optimization: What It Is & How to Master It

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Content Optimization What It Is & How to Master It

Content Optimization What It Is & How to Master It

Whether you’re creating content for your own business or for clients, it’s safe to bet that your goals include generating more online visibility, traffic, and leads. Countless others are trying to do the exact same thing. How are they going about it? One method is a clear standout.

More than 60% of companies are investing in content optimization and seeing outstanding results from it. These results include increased and higher-quality website traffic, more leads, and even more sales. So, learning about what content optimization involves and how to do it effectively can bring you similar positive outcomes.

What is content optimization & why do it?

Content optimization is another term for search engine optimization (SEO). As you may know, SEO is the process of maximizing the visibility of your content in search results for relevant keywords. With so much web content, even just within your industry, you need as many potential customers as possible to see yours. Content optimization makes that possible long-term without never-ending manual labor. How so?

Consider the potential of a single well-optimized blog post that’s updated just once or twice a year for accuracy and comprehensiveness. A post like that can bring hundreds or even thousands of visitors to your website per month. And if it’s high-quality, it can bring you a steady supply of leads and customers on autopilot. That beats fighting tooth and nail for every site visitor and lead day in and day out, wouldn’t you say?

What does it take to create content like this? It’s easy to think of SEO as just including keywords a certain number of times in certain places throughout your content so that it will rank and be seen by more people. However…

While the goal is to get more eyes on your content, making sure it’s valuable to the people who discover it is equally important. In fact, quality can either make your SEO efforts more effective or break them.

So, let’s cover both how to help search engines understand your content and deliver maximum value to your audience. That way, it’s more likely to perform well all around. We’ll break this process into four main stages: (1) SERP analysis, (2) creating engaging content, (3) optimizing your content for search engines, and (4) learning from content analysis.

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Stage 1: Conducting a SERP analysis

The search engine results page or SERP refers to the page Google and other search engines show when you type in a query. The first page of the SERP is where you want to end up for any keyword you’re targeting. Doing a SERP analysis is the first step to making this happen.

But many people set themselves up for failure at the very first stage of the SEO process: keyword research. They open a tool like Google Keyword Planner and pick keywords solely based on traffic, low keyword difficulty, and similar metrics. 

Such info can definitely be helpful when choosing keywords to target in a blog post, for example. But it doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about what words and phrases are worth optimizing your content for.

keyword research process
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Plus, keyword tools really only give guesstimates of the potential opportunity. This data alone shouldn’t determine the final selection for you.

To get the full picture, you need to analyze the SERP itself, looking at the top results for the keyword you’re considering. What will this accomplish? It’ll help you understand:

  • What topics and content formats are currently showing up on the first page of search results
  • Why Google thinks they deserve to be there
  • If you could also rank on the first page (based on the competition you’re up against and the quality of their content)
  • What you need to do to rank your content if you spot an opportunity on the first page

Speaking of which, what might a first-page ranking opportunity look like? You might find that:

  • The content currently ranking on page one is missing important info that you could cover.
  • All of the content on the SERP is nearly identical, and you could spark searchers’ interest with a fresh angle.
  • Your closest competitors aren’t ranking well for a relevant keyword that could bring you decent traffic.
  • Your website is stronger than your competitors’ or you can build more backlinks to your content to help it rank better than theirs.
  • You’re already ranking on the first page, but you’re in the bottom half of the results and could improve your content to move up higher.

Now that we know what SERP analysis is, what it accomplishes, and what kinds of signals you should be looking for, let’s talk about how to do it.

3 content analysis tools

There are countless content analysis tools available to help you plan your content. Here’s a brief overview of three of them.

Tool #1: Google

The simplest way to do content analysis is to head over to Google, type in a keyword, and see what shows up. Once you get past the ads, look at what websites are ranking the highest. If they’re mostly major sites like Wikipedia or authorities in your industry, your website may not be able to compete. But if there are weaker websites ranking, you may be able to overtake them. In that case, move to the next step.

Next, take note of similarities between the top results in the SERP. Do they all have a similar focus or format? Are they all product pages, blog posts, etcetera? Are they a similar length and, if so, what’s the ballpark range? Finding common threads can help you understand what searchers are looking for when they type your keyword into Google.

Additionally, look at any SERP features such as the “People also ask” section, featured snippets, and FAQs. These can all give you a better understanding of what a comprehensive piece of content on the topic needs to include. Based on this analysis, you should have a pretty good idea of if and how you can rank for a particular keyword.

But what if you’d like to simplify and speed up some of this work? Here are two other tools that can help.

Tool #2: Mangools

Mangools is a suite of five SEO tools, but the two we’ll cover right now are KWFinder and SERPChecker. As their names suggest, they’re for keyword research and analyzing the SERP to qualify or disqualify potential keywords. 

Below you can see, in part, the view in KWFinder with the keyword “SEO optimized content” selected. Besides estimates of how hard it is to rank for this keyword and its average monthly traffic, there are various scores for each website ranking in the SERP. To put it simply, these represent the strength of each website on the first page of the SERP. They give you a baseline to determine if your content could rank well for the term “SEO optimized content.”

serp overview
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By clicking the “Analyze SERP” button just above the SERP Overview section, you can get even more information from the SERPChecker tool. This includes the number of SERP features that show up for your keyword and their impact on the number of people that click on organic (unpaid) search results. Here you can even type in your website URL to compare it with the scores of websites currently ranking in the top search results.

serp overview section
Image Source

Notice that our example website, HubSpot, has higher link profile strength (LPS), domain authority (DA), and other scores than several of the other websites in the current SERP. This means that “SEO content optimization” may be a good keyword to create content for—especially if HubSpot were to publish a better, more informative piece of content than its competitors.

You can do a similar analysis for your website using KWFinder and SERPChecker.

Tool #3: Outranking

Last but not least, there’s Outranking, which offers AI-powered writing and research tools for SEO. Its SERP Analysis tool shows you what’s ranking on the SERP for your keyword of choice. But unlike many tools, it gives more quantitative data.

For example, it provides the minimum, average, and maximum length of the top search results. It does the same for the number of images, meta title length, and meta description length. How is this helpful? Knowing what Google deems as acceptable and indicative of high-value content can help you set a minimum length and number of images for your own content.

serp overview by outranking.io

Additionally, using the tabs to the right of the SERP Overview tab will give you a wealth of other info. 

For example, using the H Tags tab, you can identify common threads across all the headings in the top search results. The Keyword Data tab shows the frequency with which your target keyword and related ones are used throughout competitors’ content, revealing important topics to cover and opportunities to stand out. And the Questions tab reveals closely related topics that people ask about, which you could discuss in your content.

Of course, there are many more features to explore in Outranking, KWFinder, and Google Search. But this will give you a good starting point for performing SERP analysis. And thankfully, all three of these content optimization tools are user-friendly, so there shouldn’t be too much of a learning curve.

Stage 2: Creating valuable, engaging content

With the SERP analysis done and a promising target keyword chosen, you can move on to creating your content. As you do, there are a few main things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Achieve the right content depth

To rank in search results, do you always need to write an “ultimate guide” that’s 5k words longer than the longest one already ranking on the SERP? No, not always.

It’s true that a higher word count usually means that a piece of content is more in-depth. For this reason, it may be perceived as more valuable by Google. But when it comes to content optimization in SEO, search intent always reigns supreme. The million-dollar question is always: “What do searchers want to know when they type this word or keyword phrase into Google?”

Whatever it is, give them exactly that. And although it’d make your content longer, don’t be tempted to add in loosely related topics that don’t line up with what site visitors want. This would only dilute the main message they care about, frustrate them, and hurt your SEO.

To help you stay on topic, keep in mind that there are four types of search intent:

  1. Informational: Informational keywords reveal that searchers are looking for information and education.
  2. Navigational: Navigational searches reveal that searchers are looking for a place (either online or in person).
  3. Commercial: Commercial keywords reveal that searchers are doing research in preparation to make a purchase.
  4. Transactional: Transactional keywords reveal that searchers are ready to make a purchase.
search intent types

Since these types of search intent typically represent people at different stages of the journey to becoming customers, your content should generally only be created with one kind of intent in mind. It’ll be most effective that way.

To illustrate, answer this: what information would a person who searches for “history of Canon” be looking for? Clearly, they want information about the camera company Canon. That said, they’d probably not be too thrilled to land on a page dedicated to a review of the Canon 6D camera. That kind of content would be very different from what they’re looking for.

Now, to clarify, Google is smart enough not to rank a page targeting the term “Canon 6D review” for “history of Canon” because it understands the intent behind those searches. However, this example illustrates the need to stay on topic, both for search engines’ sake and for your readers.

What else do you need to do to create great content that ranks, though?

Ensure high content quality

Besides being strategic about the depth of your content, you also need to make sure that it’s of high quality. That includes being:

  • Well-written with a logical flow of ideas and no factual or mechanical errors
  • Written in language that your specific audience can understand
  • Written for your readers first and search engines second
  • Either practical so that people can easily use the information you’ve given or entertaining if that’s your goal
  • Free of words and ideas that don’t increase the value of the content (either conceptually or stylistically)

Additionally, make your content engaging. That doesn’t necessarily mean using tons of exclamation points or having a casual tone; those approaches aren’t appropriate across the board. However, all content does need to keep readers mentally focused on or, even better, interested in the information you give. You don’t want them bored to death or frustrated by your content.

Want a pro tip for creating engaging content? Use questions. They always prompt a mental response, so they’re a good way to get readers locked in mentally and interested in what follows the question.

Optimize for ease-of-reading

Closely related to our last point about quality, optimize your post for maximum readability. The language should be easy to understand, and the info should be formatted in a way that makes it easy to read. No jargon and no huge walls of text. Where appropriate, you’ll want to include:

  • Headings
  • Bullet points
  • Bolding and italics
  • Images
  • Videos

Of course, these make your content easier on the eyes. They’re also especially helpful since most people only skim and scan content these days! They need to be able to quickly find the information they’re looking for. If they can’t, they won’t hesitate to leave your site. The importance of good readability can’t be overstated, which leads us to the third stage of content optimization: On-page SEO.

Stage 3: Doing on-page optimization for search engines

Technically, this stage happens in conjunction with Stage 2, not after it. But to emphasize the importance of optimizing your content for people first, we’ll call this Stage 3. Let’s get into the SEO part of SEO content writing. Here are nine simple, non-technical things you can do as you write to optimize your content for search engines.

Title tag

Whenever possible, keep your target keyword as close as possible to the front of your title. Also, avoid clickbait. Set an accurate expectation of what people can expect from your content, and make sure your title is aligned with the search intent behind your keyword.

Meta description

The short description that appears below your title tag in search results is called a meta description. It often plays a role in influencing what pages searchers choose to visit. So, to persuade them to visit yours, your meta description needs to be concise and compelling.

meta description examples
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Try this formula: a brief intro to your topic with your keyword + an invitation to learn something specific about that topic.

Remember, though, that you have limited space with which to get the point across. On mobile, meta descriptions are cut off at around the 120-character mark and, on desktop, they’re cut off at around 160. Google increasingly processes this text to show the most relevant parts. To make sure you’re in the right range, you can use AvidDemand’s SERP Preview Tool or a similar site to see what your description would look like on the SERP.

URL

For an optimized URL, simply include your target keyword and keep it short. Take this post’s URL for instance: www.outranking.io/seo-content-optimization-guide. Simple, descriptive, and short! There’s no need to include a full sentence (www.outranking.io/what-is-seo-content-optimization-and-how-do-you-do-it).

H1, H2, and H3 tags

Use the H1 tag only once. That tag is reserved for your content’s title. Use H2 and H3 tags for subheadings. Each H2 tag should represent a main topic covered in your content, and each H3 tag should represent a subtopic of an H2 main topic. So, for example, your content might be structured this way:

  • H1: Title
  • H2: First main topic 
  • H3: Smaller subtopic
  • H3: Smaller subtopic
  • H2: Second main topic
  • H3: Smaller subtopic
  • H3: Smaller subtopic
  • H2: Conclusion

Keywords

Use your target keyword within the first 100 words. When you can use it naturally in other places throughout the content, do it. Avoid using it in ways that seem unnatural or using it excessively just because you can, which is known as keyword stuffing.

Also, use variations of your keyword phrase. You don’t have to use it exactly as you found it in your keyword research tool every time. Google can still understand what your content is about and rank it accordingly. Plus, using variations will create a more pleasant user experience for your readers.

Alt text

Image alt text serves two purposes. First, it tells Google what your images are and gives additional context on what your page is about. Second, the image description you include may be displayed when your image doesn’t load or even be read aloud to vision-impaired people who use screen readers. 

That said, if an image is directly related to your topic (and not purely decorative), you should provide a brief description. Make sure to include the same keyword in your image filename, which we’ll discuss next.

writing image alt tags
Image Source

Filename

Similar to alt text, your filenames can also tell search engines what your images are and, therefore, what your content is about. What’s the proper way to name your files? This formula works well: brief-description-with-your-keyword.jpg.

File size

If your website loads slowly, visitors will quickly get frustrated and leave. The problem? For one thing, Google notices how users interact with a website. If they never stay long, it’s a sign that the content has low value or that there’s some other user experience issue. This would make it nearly impossible to rank on the first page of the SERP. What does this have to do with file size?

Large files can make your content load slower. So do your best to minimize file sizes. For example, in the case of images, you can use a site like TinyPNG to reduce image sizes without losing image quality.

Internal links

With only a few exceptions, every piece of content should be connected with others that are part of your strategy. What does linking to other content you’ve created accomplish?

  • It leads visitors to other relevant, interesting information. This can make you their go-to source for reliable info, keep them coming back to your website, and eventually lead to sales. 
  • It keeps people on-site longer, increasing the chances that they’ll take the desired next step (such as requesting a quote or signing up for your email list).
  • It helps search engines like Google to confirm the topic of that piece of content and to recognize you as a subject matter expert if you’re consistently publishing on related topics.
  • It can pass authority and traffic from stronger pages to new content or content that just hasn’t ranked yet.

If you have other content that people might be interested in, link to it.

External AKA outbound links

Besides linking to other content you’ve created on the same website, you should also include links to relevant, high-quality content from other websites. Why? There are two reasons. First, external links give Google extra clues on what your website is about, which can help with rankings.

Second, if the links lead to reputable sites that are relevant to your topic, Google is more likely to view your content as a source of valuable and reliable info. As you can imagine, Google doesn’t want to show its users any low-quality content in the search results, so it needs to be confident that yours is worth displaying on the first page.

Stage 4: Learning from content analysis

Last up is the final section of the content optimization checklist. At this point, you have done your keyword research and SERP analysis, written engaging content, and tackled on-page optimization. And let’s say that you’ve published your content as well. What’s next? Content analysis.

Such analysis can be done before you begin content creation by looking at what competitors are publishing. Or it can be done by reviewing your existing content (perhaps in comparison with that of your competitors). In either case, the goal is to understand which aspects of content are performing well, which are not, and what improvements you can make. 

For example, research and analysis may show that you need to cover certain topics more thoroughly, change content formats, or even get rid of content on consistently underperforming topics.

This raises two questions, though. Is content analysis a necessity? And if it is, how do you do it?

Why have a content analysis process?

To answer that first question, content analysis is indeed necessary. This is a must for any kind of content creation. 

You could definitely guess what’s working and what’s not. But without solid research to back up those guesses, you’d inevitably waste valuable time and energy. Not to mention money (both if you work with a professional content creator and if you lose out on sales because your content isn’t on point).

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How do you do a content analysis?

Since analyzing your existing content is so important, here’s a four-step process you can use to get the job done. 

Step 1: Catalog your content

Don’t do your analysis based on your memory of what content you’ve published. Especially if you’ve created a lot of content, you’ll want an actual list to work with. That way, nothing slips through the cracks.

To create this list, you may want to use a spreadsheet. If you’d rather not start from scratch, you can use this rel=”nofollow”> Google Sheets Content Audit template or one of the other templates from rel=”nofollow”> Sheets For Marketers.

content audit template

Step 2: Evaluate your content 

Once you inventory all of your content, it’s time to begin the analysis. Start by reviewing each piece of content internally among your team to check for: 

  • Relevance to your target audience
  • Good coverage of topics with all information presented in a logical order
  • Up-to-date, practical information that’s easy to navigate and digest
  • Focus on a clear content marketing goal
  • Inbound and outbound links, compelling meta descriptions, focus keywords, etc. 
  • Consistent branding across all content 

You’ll likely find plenty of room for improvement just by doing this. But the process isn’t over yet. You can compare your content against what your competitors have put out. How does yours stack up?

To take it a step further, you could chat with customers. Ask them what they like about the content you’re publishing and what you could do better. Armed with this valuable info, you can then evaluate your data to confirm what’s going well and what’s not.

Step 3: Compare the data with your analysis

As you know, tons of metrics can be used to determine the success of a piece of content. Depending on your goals, you may be interested in page views, bounce rate, time on page, email list signups, and engagement (such as shares and backlinks). Consider how these line up with what you learned in the previous step.

Take, for example, a page with a high bounce rate. In other words, most people leave the page without interacting or visiting other pages. What might this mean? In looking back at your notes from step two, you may realize that the content doesn’t quite align with your visitors’ search intent. A discovery like this can provide clarity on the best steps to take next. 

Step 4: Identify opportunities & adjust your strategy

Comparing all the info gathered up to this point about each piece of content, you should be able to put together a solid plan of action. This plan could include updating, combining, splitting, or deleting pieces of content, or creating new pieces on promising topics.

Update your content marketing goals, strategy documents, and team accordingly and get to work. In another three to six months, do another content audit to see your progress.

Enjoy the benefits of content optimization

Great content can have incredible benefits for a business. It can increase website traffic, build brand awareness and trust, and progressively guide people toward becoming customers. Applying these content optimization tips will help make those benefits a reality for you. 

Plus, even if you decide against DIY and opt for professional content optimization services instead, you’ll know what to look for. This guide will help you both to hire the right content creator and to evaluate their work to make sure it’s truly optimized and aligned with your content marketing strategy. 
Ready to put your newfound SEO content crafting skills to the test? Choose an existing piece of content and pop it into Outranking to see its score. Then, use the prompts there along with this guide to improve it via content optimization.

nia gyant

Nia Gyant 
Nia Gyant is a freelance writer and brand messaging strategist with a background in online marketing. She helps small businesses generate more brand awareness, leads, and sales via strategically crafted, goal-oriented content and copy.

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