The aim of this manual is to help create content that provides use and value to both searchers and search engines.
SEO optimising content during the initial production phase ensures maximum impact from launch in terms of attracting qualified traffic and delivering to them valid content that matches the searchers query in terms of both topic and intent.
Ideally, marrying both content writing skills with SEO helps to meet the E.A.T (Expertise, Authority, Trust) requirements of search engines such as Google. To do so two elements are required:
The goal of this unification is to:
Ideally, content production takes a topic first approach. Meaning, target topics are identified which is followed by keyword research which maps keywords to the identified topics.
Creating valuable content means not just publicizing useful and attractive information, but also assuring that the information can be found. The following is a checklist which goes through each step required to make sure that all content is fully optimised before digital publication.
When identifying what key terms to target within the keyword research process it is important to ensure the use of valid and current customer terminology for a specific target topic.
Over time, the way topics or categories are discussed by professionals or industry users can alter, expand, contract and evolve. As such, it is essential to remain current with the customers’#39; language.
At GitLab we have access to valuable resources that help inform, validate and evolve the targeting process.
A brief overview of some of the most valuable resources and assets that are utilized as part of the cyclical keyword planning stage.
Strategic Marketing - linking with a member of the team and accessing their wealth of information and research resources provides exceptional insight into our customers allowing for up to date targeting using customer focus language and needs.
Key personas & pain points - user persona research assists in the identification of possible keyword targets for a specific audience based on their requirements, motivations and pain points. As a resource, this is excellent for establishing problem solving keyword targets for specific segments.
Chorus - provides information and insight based on customer conversations, and most importantly, using their own language. The filtering and analysis of discussion transcripts inform keyword targeting research and assist in the identification of current terms. An additional benefit is the capability of contextual analysis of specific terms.
Using data and research to understand the evolving needs of the customer as well as their preferences for terminology allow for the development of targeted strategies that maximise impact.
The incorporation of this information into the planning stage ensures a focus on user intent as well as the delivery of highly relevant solution based content.
All content projects begin with solid research that aligns keyword targeting research with topical analysis. To create a content plan, you need a clear idea of your goals and the message you are trying to convey through your content.
Various tools allow for the analysis of search engine results to identify what the algorithms are delivering in top search positions for a target term.
Using this information, in alignment with keyword research, it is possible to plan content production, as well as on page information structure, based on data.
Once gathered and analysed, the information can be used to inform new content production, as well as for updating/optimising older content assets through gap analysis.
The following tools are excellent resources for the content planning stage and provide a wealth of actionable information:
Provides a breakdown of the top results per searched term as well as on page structure (H1,H2, H3), metadata and an audit of all on page links.
Provides an organised view of which questions searchers are asking about a specific topic, and also the hierarchy of how those questions are linked together.
This tool looks at autocomplete data from search engines and quickly provides large listings of phrases and questions that people are asking related to your target keyword or topic.
Socrates uses a combination of various Google suggest sites, as well as People Also Asked questions, with search trends data.
All resources above allow for data exporting, meaning an extensive data research file can be compiled on any topic you wish to target. These resources can simplify the content planning stage through data based decision making.
Keyword lists are provided during the research stage based on targeting parameters and requirements. Each list is researched and scored to identify targeting opportunities based on multiple criteria such as search volume, competitiveness etc. The keywords are then tagged based on any intent modifiers in order to segment targeting by intent stage and to maximise impact.
When a keyword list has been used for a project stage, it is important to highlight any terms used as the primary page target within the document. This helps to ensure no retargeting of the same term takes place and avoid any keyword cannibalization issues down the line.
Keyword lists are updated frequently, and identifying already targeted terms helps improve the process and also to initiate keyword tracking within campaign structures when required.
This is where overlapping keywords are identified within a keyword list and grouped to target on a singular page to maximise organic traffic for a topic.
This helps ensure that multiple pages are not produced for a series of keywords which can then end up competing for each other for traffic.
Semantic keywords should also be applied to a page where possible, these are terms that google likes to see present based on the target topic and highlights how extensively a topic is covered based on content which currently ranks in SEARCH.
Lists of semantic terms are provided to the content writer during the research phase along with keyword lists and trending topic analysis.
It is important to always place natural language at the forefront of page optimization. Key terms are used when appropriate and should never be placed in circumstances where they do not sound natural (keyword stuffing).
During the research phase, keyword lists are provided to content writers along with trending topic lists and lists of trending questions.
Each webpage and the content that is placed on it should be focused on user intent. Your content will vary depending on what stage of a customer journey your reader is at. And so should your keywords.
When targeting a specific keyword term, the SEO team will provide a data set of keywords which fall under this overall target. The keyword list will be categorized so as that the list can be filtered into the three primary targets of intent.
This will allow for the mapping of individual articles which can be produced to tackle a customer at each buyer stage.
See more on this topic covered below.
This process has two elements, internal and external.
Internal: what content do we have internally that already covers this topic - this ensures we do not create keyword cannibalization issues as well as help to optimise a content clustering strategy approach in terms of linking.
External: What content do our competitors have that cover this topic, what is performing well for this in search, what format does it take? We use this information to inform our own production.
As readers tend to drop off according to the 80/20 rule (80% drop off after the initial 20% of page content) it can be good practice to top load the page copy with content that includes a solution to the searchers pain point. Addressing the issue here, and then moving into broader areas of the topic following this helps to ensure that the solution is provided while attention is still maintained.
Content should be formatted for scan ability; most site visitors have a very limited attention span and therefore it is best to use an inverted pyramid style. This refers to cramming all the important points into the beginning of an article or piece and then broadening as it moves on. This way the most beneficial marketing points have a higher chance of impact within this limited time frame even if the recipient bounces.
It can also be good practice to include a CTA following this to help promote action related to the searchers pain point, and the solution which is being provided. Resource: https://yoast.com/inverted-pyramid/
Sentences within articles will vary in length. Accumulated short sentences make a text seem choppy and hard to digest, overly long sentences can seem overly complicated and dull to a reader. Therefore, a healthy mixture of both is favorable. However, shorter, clearer and more impactful sentences are preferable. (Short sentences < 17 words / long sentences > 35 words)
Any sentence which is more than 2-3 sentences long on a word document can generally be broken into two separate sentences. The 2.5-3 lines long category is generally above and beyond the recommended limit except in exceptional circumstances.
Avoid the use of passive text. Overuse of passive text is seen as non-persuasive and also as poor writing. It allows the object of an action to be the subject of the sentence. On average this should be kept below 20% of the overall text, generally depending on the type of piece that is to be generated.
With the active voice, you learn 'who' or 'what' is responsible for the action at the beginning of the sentence. In other words, when the subject acts, the verb is active.
Active voice tends to make text shorter, clearer and more impactful - most importantly, active text is more persuasive:
Passive voice example: Groceries were bought by my parents for my sister's birthday party.
Active voice example: My parents bought groceries for my sister's birthday party.
This is one of the primary elements crawled by search engines to understand the context of a page. Be sure to include your core target term within the URL structure. This is essential to include during initial creation. Altering URLs at a later date is not advisable unless essential for other purposes.
Your meta title tag should be accurate and descriptive. It shows as the heading above your meta description on the search results page and as such strongly impacts the click through rate. The text should, in general, be no longer than 60-70 characters (though this is finally determined by pixel length) and should contain key terms related to the page.
Going over this threshold increases the chance your title will be truncated in search results. Google will automatically rewrite title tag text on average of 30% of the time. Keeping it under the recomended threshold helps to mitigate this, but is no guarentee. However, even when Googel does rewrite meta data, it still utilises the original information to assist in distinguishing the purpose/target of the page - so original input data is still important.
The text between your title tags is often displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs). These tags are therefore useful in both SEO and for social sharing.
Meta descriptions do not have a direct impact on SEO, however, they are heavily influential on organic CTR from SERPs. As such, is considered a key SEO element. Be sure to include the core term, and provide a strong CTA description that promotes the value of the content in relation to the intent of the search query.
Your meta description tag is a unique, and clear description of what is featured on the page and appears below a page link/title on SERPs. A good meta description can increase your click-through rate.
Once again, search engines (Google) regularly alter metadata (avg 30%) and as a rule, you should not exceed a meta description length of 70-160 characters to help minimise this, also anything over this threshold will be truanced and the poswer of the messaging or CTA will be lost.
Headers are the things which summarise the pages you create for both consumers and search engines, as well as being important stylistically.
All content, barring news articles, should consist of a H1 and subsequent H2 breaking up each section. This is for SEO and reader scan ability.
Keywords should be used in H1 and also as close as possible to the beginning of the first sentence of paragraph 1. This is as the Google bots scan pages from the top down when deciding how relative they are.
<h1\></h1\> This tag is your main page heading – it's from this that Google will take one of it's first impression of your page's relevance to a search query. It is important for page relevance that these contain the information you wish to rank for, such as your target keywords. Though there is no definitive limit, best practice dictates that you should attempt to keep your titles unique, between 60 and 80 characters, and with keywords near the beginning.
H1s are major ranking indicators, a page should only contain a single H1 (in certain cases your title will be your H1, depending on page template format).
As mentioned above, keywords and their placement within H1 headers can be strong influential factors, particularly for the core term target. In other elements such as H2s and H3s, you can also use the core term, or variances of it as well as semantically related topical terms.
<h2\></h2\> are also good for use as stand-alone subheadings for breaking up content and allowing for ease and speed of understanding. Readers will at times scan the content for relative sections, such headers quickly identify content they may require.
<h3\></h3\> This is your sub-sub and its formatting should denote its place as a paragraph leader, or stand-out line. Only use a H3 if necessary and siving into a subcatagory topic.
This system of heading substructures helps identify the breadth of the topic covered as well as the informational hierarchy of the page content to both users and search engines.
When utilizing images, use the target keyword in the filename of the image, the image title, and the ALT tag. Doing so optimizes the file for image searches.
Secondly, optimized image file sizes are extremely important and directly affect page load times which are a key SEO factor. Images should be compressed to suit page requirements.
Your image tag also provides an explanation of images to search engines, which can be used in conjunction with various modifiers to position it according to your needs. This is another factor of on-page optimization.
Used for your on page links (your hypertext underlines), the anchor text should give easily inferred signals about what awaits them on the destination page. This is good for both the searcher and search engines, as it indicates to the search engine the relationship between the current page and the one that the link is connected to.
Linking strategies, both internal and external are key parts of both the SEO strategy as well as the internal user flow funneling strategy (moving users through funnel stages).
Whenever publishing a new piece of content, it is important to include links to 2-5 other pages within your site. This process is ideal for identifying relationships between content groups/clusters or for mapping a buyer journey so as to funnel traffic to the next stage of conversion. It is also important than when laucnhing a new page you link out to that page from a pre-existing, and topically related page. Doing so can help speed up both the ranking and indexing process for the new page.
Be sure to use keyword rich anchor text for your internal links as these help indicate context to both the searcher and search engines.
Internal links have multiple purposes for SEO. They signal to search engines how much you cover a topic not just through the initial page, but also linked pages and this helps boost topical expertise. Providing links to related pages can also increase page views and engagement and build brand trust and push users towards conversion.
More internal links also keep search bots on the site longer and assist in indexing more of the website's content.
Internal link structure also allows for the strategic passing of page equity within the site and can boost page authority and help increase positioning.
A page's equity is passed through the links the page contains, and is in a sense divided between the number of links on the given page. The position of the links can also influence the amount of importance that a search engine will allocate to it.
To search engines, the most valuable links on a page are those within the content, most credence is given to the first links encountered within the page copy. Use these links as your primary strategic links for both funneling users to next stage content and also for link equity passing.
If you have multiple links on a page to the same page, the first of the links will be given credence by search engines. A header and footer links pass less equity than internal content links, if a link exists in the page header and also in the page content, credence will be given to the header link and the value of the internal content link will be devalued.
External links to trusted websites are an important means of showing search engines that your content is well-referenced, trustworthy and backed up. However, be careful where you place these links, too close to the top of the page and you could be funneling traffic away from the site.
Also, be careful not to link to content that is covering the very same topic, as searchers may travel to the external page and be drawn into their buyer funnel as it provides information on the same query/intent.
External links should be low within the page copy, internal links take precedence and this will minimize user drop off.
Anchor text is the text used for the hyperlink when adding a link within the page copy, this text is extremely important as it gives search engines a description of the context of the link and the relationship between the two pages.
Ensure you use descriptive text that is succinct and relevant to the page you are linking to, and not text such as “click here” etc., which provides no context or value.
Anchor text 5 basic types
Image anchors are another form of link anchor (non-text). When using images as an anchor for a link, search engines will utilize the image's alt attribute as the anchor text (goes back to why images need to be optimized).
SEO is a long-term game. Many strategies require more than six months to show results. Some strategies can provide faster impact/results, but overall strategies are rolled out in cadences and are long-term. Patience is a key to success when vying for competitive top positions.
It is important to remember that there are multiple mitigating factors that need to be allowed for, these include:
SEO is not optimizing for machines. It is optimizing for users and implementing specific elements to ensure that our content is crawled, indexed, and seen as best in class in order to be allotted a top result for a given topical query.
It is aligning with the AI and ML system processes that search engines have developed in order to provide users with the exact, and best, content that satisfies the user's search query intent.
If search engines did not give users the best results for their query, Google would not be what it is today. The whole premise of the search engine is to solve a searcher's problem, completely, efficiently, and effectively. This process is continually evolving and improving.
There are four primary levels of searcher intent, and understanding these allows us to segment target keywords into these groups. Doing so helps us understand the format and type of content that we need to produce in order to consolidate a page one position in SERPs for a particular query.
The main types of search intent are:
Informational: (know) the searcher is looking for information, a content-heavy resource that provides valuable insight into a specified topic - generally top of the funnel, blogs, topics page, etc.
Commercial investigation: (prove) the searcher is within the mid-funnel stage for this type of search intent, is seeking research and data to inform a decision prior to purchasing. This data may be for themselves, or for a senior member of the team who is the decision-maker.
Transactional: (do) at this stage the user is actively wanting to purchase and terms will include modifiers related to purchasing/cost etc.
Navigational: (go) users with this intent are trying to find a specific website or web page (most often branded searches).
A simple and easy way to deconstruct the searcher intent behind a query is to type it into a search engine. Look at the first page of results for the query, examine the format of the content of those results.
What format does the resulting content take, a blog, a topics page, or a solutions page? Are the titles predominantly include terms such as “how, what, where, methods, etc” this would all indicate informational intent.
If the intent is informational, provide as much relevant content as is possible and help educate the user on the query topic. Thoroughly cover the topic, and answer common questions.
Terms such as “best, top, etc” would indicate commercial intent. To align with this type of search query intent, provide the searcher with the information required to make a particular decision (reviews, pricing, comparisons, FAQs, etc.)
If the intent is transactional, optimize the copy for this and emphasize specific conversion value points within the page title and copy. Keep the content focused on the desired outcome (eg. buying a product). This page type will not require loads of supporting content, unlike an informational intent page.
The easiest way to deconstruct a strategy from the SERP results is utilizing the four Cs concept:
Content-type: this refers to the most common “type” of content that is in the top search results and can consist of blog posts, a product page, a category page, or a landing page. Examining the titles and URLs can inform the proper content format to match searcher intent.
Content format: examine the competition and identify what format the top results take - are the how-to guides, reviews, comparisons, or other such formats.
Content angle: at this point aim to distinguish the universal selling point (USP) of the top results, who are they targeted at, and how?
Content coverage: it is important to cover the topic in-depth, identify the topics/subtopics covered by the competitors and include these, also fill any gaps that they may have, and most importantly provide additional useful information that they lack.
The following optimizations work for top of funnel (ToF) content (both blogs or topics-related content, independent of the off-page informational hierarchy structure).
Identify the target topic for the page, from this research and focus on a primary keyword.
Once the core target term is identified, run competitor analysis and see what is ranking on page 1 of SERPs for that type of query. Take note of the content format, and also note what subtopics are covered on each page. This will help define the information types and value that users look for relating to the query and that search engines deliver to satisfy the search query intent. Next, identify semantic terms related to the core target topic as well as variances of the original term. Create a list of these and utilize them within the copy when executing the content.
A final task, identifying People Also Asked (PAA) queries using Google. These are lists of queries semantically related to the core topic that users also searched for while searching for your target topic. Utilizing this information, you can be sure to provide a strong authoritative page on the topic.
Once this data is compiled, the next step is to create a page brief and build out the skeleton of the page to be created/or content sections to add or optimize (depending on if this is a new or existing page).
Compiling a content brief should include:
Not only is historical blog optimization a way to get more out of the content you already have, it's also a way to get a leg up on such a competitive landscape by keeping your content evergreen and delivering even more value to the people reading it.
This tactic is so effective simply because the content has been indexed for much longer and already has some authority in Google, which in turn will make it easier for your optimized post to gain traction and start moving up the ranks.
Before you start updating random articles, though, you should take a strategic approach to get the biggest impact and identify critical articles to optimize.
When it comes to optimizing your past articles, the primary focus is on four core areas:
When not focusing on individual page optimisations, it is best to categorize and group pages based on the above and to optimise each group within a project setting.
You spend so much time, effort, and money creating quality blog articles. Ideally, you're getting a ton of traffic to your site because of it. Traffic is great, but we need people to contact you and get in your sales pipeline.
By focusing on low converting articles, you'll be able to make small updates that can help drive big results
Having a higher bounce rate with your blog articles than your website pages is common because most people are looking to find specific educational information and, once they have read it, they tend to leave your site. But that does not mean you settle for high bounce rates from your articles! If these pages have good dwell time from the readers it means the content is delivering the required information and the reader is engaged. But we would look for a means of driving that traffic further into the funnel and reduce the bounce rate. If the time on page is low, then most likely the content did not align with the intent of the searcher and requires analysis.
Articles that receive a significant number of impressions in search engines but not a lot of clicks through to your site is a perfect optimization opportunity to dramatically increase your traffic. By making some minimal tweaks to page titles and meta descriptions, you can encourage more searchers to click through to your site.
These are articles that are currently on pages two or three of Google's search results. You're close to seeing a big traffic increase if you can improve the content of those articles and get them on page one of the SERP. Moving to this position greatly increases the CTR %.
Individual page optimization projects (post-production) would differ in approach as each undertaking would require the analysis of the data of each individual page to be optimized.
As such, using the checklist document discussed would be beneficial for the inclusion of any missing elements, but would also include:
A content clustering strategy uses internal linking structures and topic modelling to indicate to search engine crawlers the relationship between content pages. Using this approach helps to provide such crawlers with an overview of the site's topic ownership and expertise on certain subjects and as such boost search performance.
It is a means of organising and archiving content by subject matter and provides an intentional, organized and structured approach to SEO content production.
The linking structure indicates to search engines what the relationship between all elements of the structure are, and also the level of expertise and knowledge that a site can provide on a given topic.
Google uses its Google RankBrain algorithm to evaluate pages for ranking and determine what results to provide for a given search query based on intent.
Utilizing this approach helps positively influence factors that this algorithm uses when evaluating both quality and authority of a site/topic.
A cluster strategy is a prime approach to gaining page one position rankings for competitive short-tail keywords that are informational in intent (ToF) and highly competitive within specific niches.
Once established content clusters can be added to regularly, as well as tracking and optimising assets within the cluster. A common question is how many cluster pages should be in a content cluster?
Answer: as many as you can think of. The trick is to continually identify content gaps within your cluster by means of research and to fill these.