Merging of Content Strategy and SEO

Search engine optimization continues to evolve at a rapid pace.  With each passing year, search engines release updates to their algorithms that alter the landscape where SEO professionals ply their trade.  What has remained fairly consistent through most of this time is the fact that search engine optimization has often taken a backseat to the more prominent functions like content development.

This is not to say that SEO has been ignored outright (although it may have in some cases) or treated as insignificant to the success of a website.  Instead, the role of SEO has played out more behind the scenes reacting to content changes, tracking results and at times, working in support of paid search efforts.

However, as this evolution of organic search has continued to progress, the need to elevate SEO to the forefront of digital/website marketing endeavors can no longer be ignored.  Optimizing your content to maximize organic results cannot be performed effectively in isolation.  What’s more, content should not be developed in a vacuum and then matched, after the fact, to a search query keyword or string.  Success for the website means that content is attracting and engaging users.  For SEO to be successful in driving visitors to the site, its efforts must be intertwined with the development of a website’s content.

Many website managers and publishers plan a release calendar as a foundation of their content strategy.  They might work with brand marketing teams or product experts to determine what topics or features they need to emphasize in the coming year.  Websites focused on generating traffic and engagement may look to writers, journalists and creative teams to populate their site with a continuous stream of fresh content.  In scenarios like these, SEO’s role is to react to what is planned/created and to ensure the site is best positioned to promote this content and rank well in search results.  Through proper tagging, page structure and headline tweaking, SEO supports the content strategy making it more discoverable for the site’s target audience.

With the latest algorithm updates (BERT in particular), search engines are pushing websites and their content to better understand a user’s intent versus just matching what they may have typed into their search bar.  It is not enough to provide plenty of content that discusses a particular subject.  Now, one must also seek to understand better how a user intends to use that content whether it is to answer a specific question, learn more before taking a next step or other potential reasons.  It’s almost as if content developers and curators must become proficient in reading user’s minds.  

In light of this, elevating SEO into a role that goes beyond just supporting predefined content and directly into the planning and creation process itself can help. Aspects important to search success need to be considered at the very beginning as part of the development of said content and the overarching content strategy.  Two ways stand out in which SEO can be utilized effectively earlier in this process.  

First, an understanding of how one’s target audience is currently searching for content can be researched and shared to inform content strategy.  As mentioned, the recent changes in search algorithms appear to ask marketers to develop the ability to read user’s minds.  Obviously, this notion is ridiculous but leveraging this subset of SEO research knowledge can provide the insights needed to better understand user intent.  With a shift away from matching keywords and keyword strings, the idea of creating content around topics comes to the fore.  Learning how users seek out information on specific topics can shed some light as to how they might intend to use it.  These insights can be employed to construct content and strategies that better align with user intent.  In addition, a clearer vision of this purpose can help to identify those topics that might benefit from further expansion creating deeper ecosystems of related content that can provide better and more continuous responses to website user needs.

The second way SEO can be used early in the content development process is through the honing of topics and features that could be most effective in driving traffic results.  Ultimately, this is what any content strategy is looking to accomplish and search results analysis can be beneficial.  SEO practitioners will often note search demand levels when examining any issues associated with organic search results.  This demand can fluctuate over short periods of time explaining why sudden drops (or rises) may occur but they can also be useful in formulating a better understanding of what topics are most or least in demand.  Content strategy development likely has included these kinds of elements in its thinking already.  However, viewing this through an SEO lens backed by real results can impact what topics are highlighted and even when there release might be most effective.  Analysis of past demand data can reveal seasonal trends, topics on the upswing or more importantly, additional, related subjects and features that would better drive traffic.  

Websites across the internet vary greatly in terms of their purpose, type of content and even the size of the teams that support them.  This variation translates to variety of different viewpoints on the idea of merging SEO and content strategies.  In some cases, the situations described above may be very accurate.  In others, the same person may already be responsible for search engine optimization and content creation.  Others may not even do one or the other or farm these tasks out to third parties.  Regardless, there is an undeniable need to begin looking at content development and the accompanying strategies through this SEO lens.

Like it or not, search engines are changing their algorithms to drive websites toward this idea of better meeting user intent.  The effectiveness of matching content to query strings and keywords will continue to decline.  SEO experts must become adept at writing or content planners and developers need to become more knowledgeable of search engine optimization techniques.  Experts in these areas working together makes the most sense and will lead to success for any website in what is becoming an even more dynamic and complex digital marketing environment.

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