We talk a lot about the importance of marrying the art and science of content marketing. We define the art as the quality—writing, design, and production—of content, regardless of its format, and the science as SEO and distribution, and the accompanying data analysis and adaptation. Without a doubt, a real-deal agency knows you need both to find content marketing success.
But when it comes to creating content, what exactly is the right balance between art and science? Should one get priority over the other?
The answer is yes: Your first priority needs to be engaging people and that happens with the art side of the equation. But a close second is science, because Google is always watching, and if you ignore that, none of the people will find your content anyway. How do you find the balance and what, exactly, is the right balance? That’s what we’re going to tell you. And we’ll also give you a bit of an SEO primer so that you can win the game of attracting human internet searchers and pleasing the Google gods.
Content Marketing Gone Wrong: Imbalanced Priorities
Seventy-five percent of people never click past the first page of Google search results. So ranking on page one really does matter. Will readers even find your content if it’s not on the first page? You may be itching to focus solely on SEO tactics so you can rank.
Not so fast.
A huge part of content marketing — especially B2B content marketing — is building trust and credibility with your target audience. Data shows that 60 percent of buyers prefer to do research and become educated before they engage with a sales person (and sadly only 3 percent actually trust sales reps). So if you want all of those people to be on your site doing that research vs. your competitor’s, you need to be seen as a thought leader in your space. But it’s nearly impossible to sound like a thought leader if your content is created with only SEO in mind.
Take an example: You write a blog post about your B2B SaaS platform that’s perfectly tailored to those finicky Google gods. It’s loaded (dare we say, stuffed) with keywords like “mobile order form software” and “better app solutions.” Plus, it’s got hierarchical subheads galore and tons of short, staccato sentences. Because of this, the blog sounds choppy. It just doesn’t flow with all those keywords wedged in. And honestly? It’s just not good writing.
Sure, lots of searchers will find your blog post because it does please Google, but they won’t stick around to actually read it. People are smart. Once they realize your content lacks true substance or they’re just not engaged by the choppy copy, they’ll hit the back button. Onto the next search result they go.
If you’ve won Google’s affections, have you really won at content marketing? Nope. Google is not going to buy your product or service. But you have just alienated your audience and haven’t converted any leads.
SEO and Content Sitting in a Tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G
So, you can’t focus solely on high-quality content because Google won’t rank your stuff, and readers will never find it — no matter how good it is. And you can’t focus solely on SEO because readers will, well, hate reading your content.
You’re probably ready for the key to content marketing part now. Here it is: You have to think of your content marketing efforts as a marriage between SEO best practices and real readers’ experience (content creation for humans!). What a lovely union it will be.
And just imagine the content/SEO kids — they’ll be remarkable. They’ll be the most engaging children ever, offering the most satisfying answers to all of your prospects’ pressing questions, solving their problems, educating them on topics that will boost your business. And they’ll be easy to find. Not like those stinkin’ neighbor kids who don’t show up when mom calls them or are hiding in a friend’s basement doing god knows what. The remarkable content kids are there right in front of you when you search and they’re helping you make money. Every parent’s dream!
Did we abuse this metaphor yet?
The bottom line is that everything you produce should be a marriage of SEO techniques and people-pleasing content, which leads to a healthy, beautiful bundle of leads.
Tips to Write People-Pleasing Content
If we had to choose between pleasing search engines or pleasing human readers, you know now that we’d go with the latter. Our reasoning is simple. If you piss off Google, you might have to work hard to get noticed again. But piss off readers? They’re probably gone for good.
To that end, you need to work hard to make your writing remarkable. How, you ask? First, knock off the clickbait-y nonsense and the keyword stuffing. Then, follow a couple of key rules.
Rule number one: Offer a valuable takeaway (or a few) to your readers. Of course, you should adeptly tease the takeaway in your intro so they read on. But, by the end, they should come away with actionable, interesting knowledge that they can apply to whatever problem they are trying to solve.
Rule number two: Your content should aim to educate, not sell. Your goal is to provide the best answers to searchers’ questions and/or address your audience’s pain points. You can present a CTA pointing to additional resources, but don’t ask for anything in return.
Remember, you want to be a thought leader in your field. This is how you get there.
4 Must-Have SEO Basics for Your Content Marketing
So, you’re now convinced that humans will be your first priority in content creation. Good. But at this point in our piece, you’ve also learned that you can’t outright neglect SEO.
So where should you start? Well, you could download one of the hundreds of SEO guides available online. But if you’re like most people, you don’t have time to sift through a dense 40-page SEO how-to. And you might not have an SEO specialist on staff.
Get started with the basics. We’ve compiled four SEO must-haves for busy marketers trying to win over Google and entice readers to click.
1. Conduct Keyword Research
Most marketers know they should infuse their content with keywords (ideally, without overdoing it). What some forget is that finding the perfect keywords starts long before you put “pen to paper.”
Consider your company’s areas of expertise and the services you provide. Use a tool like Ahrefs, Moz, or SEMRush to do some research on what your competitors are ranking for. Then use some of your tool’s functions (Ahrefs, for example, has a Questions function that lets you see what people are asking Google around a particular topic.) In the most basic terms, you’re trying to figure out what your audience is searching for and then choosing the term that has the most volume but the lowest difficulty so that you have a chance of ranking.
You want your choices to be attainable.Too many marketers want to rank for short, high-traffic keywords right away. Imagine a healthtech marketer pining after the keyword phrase “heart attack.” Heart attack gets about 173,000 searches per month and has a keyword difficulty of 89. Ahrefs says that you need 681 backlinks from other websites to rank for that term. That’s just not realistic unless you’re the Mayo Clinic. Instead, find longer tail keywords (for example, “how to identify heart attacks in young women”) that have less search volume but offer better ranking opportunities.
This keyword research is the beginning of your process — not the end.
2. Write Effective Metadata
Think of your metadata — the meta title and description — like a tiny ad for your content. You need to entice readers to click through.
Your meta title should tell people what your piece is about — in 50-60 characters. What are you offering searchers? Distill that into your meta title. This is where to use those exact keywords you researched, ideally in the first part of your title. But being specific and including that keyword (or keyword phrase) doesn’t mean you have a pass to be boring. Remember, this is your chance to entice someone to click.
An effective meta description has two requirements: 1) It’s short. Keep it to 150 characters or less. 2) It’s descriptive. This is where you tell the reader what they are going to get out of your piece and why they should read it. Yep, all in 150 characters. Tantalize them by asking a question or digging into their pain point. A meta description should include a keyword as early as possible in those 150 characters, as well as a secondary keyword, if it makes sense. And don’t forget the CTA!
3. Craft a Compelling Headline (H1) and Subheads
The headline of your content (the H1) does not have to be exactly the same as your meta title. It should include your keyword, but here you have the opportunity to elaborate and expand a little. On your own website, you aren’t limited to 50-ish characters, so take the opportunity to offer a bit more information to draw readers in.
Only 20% of people continue reading a post after the headline. Take time to craft both the H1 (and the meta title) to make your content so appealing that readers feel they have to read what you wrote!
Once you get them into your piece, make it easy for them — and Google — to see what they’re getting quickly and easily. Subheads (H2 headings) throughout your piece should contain your keyword if possible and/or secondary phrases related to that keyword. Google rewards this type of structure and your readers, who have increasingly little patience for reading giant chunks of content, can scan for an answer to a question and find it easily.
4. Add Internal and External Links
Both internal and external links are essential to SEO success.
Internal links — links from one piece of your content to another within your site — show you’re an expert who has covered your topics more than once. Internal links have the power to keep readers on your site longer, too. And the more content they read on your site, the more they’ll grow to trust you. Plus, Google tends to value low bounce rates.
External links — links to credible sources outside your site —- prove you’re not making stuff up. They back up and bolster your assertions so readers (and Google) know you’re authoritative.
In both cases, do everyone a favor and link appropriate anchor text. No one needs to see another, “You can read that blog post here.” Just tell them something related to the other topic and hyperlink it, we’re begging you.
5. Use image alt text
You probably know that what your content looks like is as important as what it says. But you can’t just drop an image and walk away, patting yourself on the back for finding the only decent stock image out there. You have to describe it, both for Google and for people who may not be able to see it. Technology has come a long way, so yes, people with visual impairments ARE reading your content. But that technology has to describe that great image you put in there. So don’t just copy your title, and don’t just type in “patient in hospital bed.” Be descriptive about exactly what you see and include your keyword or related phrase, for example “young woman in hospital bed connected to heart monitor.”
Go Forth and Make Remarkable Content Kids
The divide between SEO tactics and good, people-pleasing content is narrowing. With each algorithm update, Google seems to care more and more about long-form, high-quality content that’s created for real readers.
You’re not choosing between catering to the SEO bots or your prospects — you really can’t do one or the other. Marrying your SEO tactics with well-crafted content inevitably leads to remarkable content kids. And those kids will take care of you (by engaging your audience and driving leads) for years to come.
Want to learn more about how to create a solid strategy and plan for creating content that will lead to those remarkable children? Download our eBook, Build Your Content Marketing Plan: A 10-Step Guide.