How to Start Optimizing Your Content for SEO

I’m going to start by saying your site’s content needs to be helpful to the user. Too often, content is created for the “algorithm,” but cutting corners to beat the system isn’t a sustainable strategy.

We need to stop focusing on “winning traffic” and focus on improving the quality of our traffic. For me, content is one of the essential items to improve SEO. In my opinion, the technical health of a site won’t matter if the site doesn’t have helpful content for the user.

Why Is Content Important for SEO?

You’ve probably heard this from other SEO’s, “add content,” “create more content,” as if only generating content was enough to improve your SEO performance. It’s one of the most important things to do, but often than not, it’s done wrong.

SEO isn’t about stuffing a page with everything related to one term; it’s about creating helpful content for the user. It’s so important that I’ll repeat it. It’s about creating content that is helpful to the user. Do you see how I didn’t say algorithm, or Google, or search engine? Content needs to be beneficial to the person consuming it.

A piece of content created with the user’s needs in mind will provide enough context to search engines about why that page deserves to rank for your targeted keyword. By putting the users’ needs first, we know that the page’s value will be higher than a page created to win the algorithm.

Real-World Example of Content and SEO

Imagine you find yourself owning a town, and it becomes your life’s goal to promote it and make it the best town in the world. Besides not being able to change the feculent name, you focus all your time and energy on promoting it. Everyone now recognizes the name of your town, expecting a fantastic time when they visit.

You get your first visit, and the tourists are shocked. They hate it. All your town has is a creek, a rundown motel, and a Wienerschnitzel. They were lied to; the promotions promised rafting activities, plant-based restaurants, and resort-style hospitality.

Promoting or increasing one’s SEO means nothing if when a user visits your website, they don’t find what they are looking for.

What Exactly Is ‘Content’?

Content is not just a blog post or a product description. It’s not just the visitor’s center in our little town, but the tours, events, and unique shops that got the visitor interested in visiting in the first place.

Content is any information used to convey meaning. It is any information that gives the visitor what they were after when they first arrived.

Information can take the form of words (like that definition of “content” I just gave), pictures, formats (the italicized text told you a word was important), or implicit associations created by structure and layout.

“Words are content” is easy to understand. “Implicit associations” as content is harder to understand. Here’s an example.

A search begins: “big cat yawning in the sun.”

Content-first SEO is about aligning with and meeting user expectations
house-cat-yawning

Aw, look at that big cat sunning herself and yawning.

Here’s another picture of a cat yawning:

Content-first SEO is not about pushing whatever you have on-hand - create content that your audience needs
Close-up of a tiger roaring and showing his teeth

Aw, look at that big tiger yawning in the sun…

But in the second example, “a big cat yawning in the sun” isn’t quite what you see, is it?

They’re both cats. They’re both striped. They’re both showing fangs. They both have sun on their heads. Both photos are close-ups of the cats’ faces and the upper portion of their bodies.

The data is the same, but visitors were probably looking for one or the other of these images, not both. Good content satisfies a visitor’s desire. You have to choose the image based on the substance you think your viewer wants, not based on what you think you can get to rank.

You have to provide content that gives something substantial to your audience, not whatever you think will show up in search results. (Don’t know what they want? Learn how to develop a useful persona.)

The First Steps To Optimize Your Content For SEO

If you’ve made it this far, you now know how important it is to have helpful content on your website. Understanding the importance of good content is a significant step in the right direction. Let’s talk about the steps to optimize existing or new content for SEO but with the user in mind (like it should always be).

1. Keyword Research

Using your favorite SEO tool (mine is Ahrefs), look for keywords relevant to your strategy. Don’t worry about search volume or difficulty. Look for keywords that align with the topics you want to write about. Remember, you want to produce good content, so it’s better to target ten good quality users than 500 users who aren’t exactly looking for what you’re going to publish.

2. Understanding Search Intent

You’ve completed keyword research, and you included small search volume keywords. Great, let’s now find the user intent behind those keywords.

User intent is about identifying what type of content a user is looking for when using a specific keyword. Here are a couple of questions to help you understand search intent:

  • What do people want to do?
  • How do we help them do that with our content?
  • What are the questions people ask, and how do we answer them?

The best way to answer those questions is by grabbing keywords and searching for them yourself. What questions is the content you see ranking answering?

3. Link Building

External link building is not a tactic. It is a result, an earned benefit of having valuable content. If you set the right expectations and deliver something extraordinary, getting external links follows naturally.

Internal link building is often overlooked but is easier to control. It helps set expectations and create associations.

Again, think of the town. You made a promise by disseminating the messages within your control. You set expectations through context. Now deliver on what you promised.

Key questions we should take from this when considering how and when to build links:

  • Is the content we’ve created good enough that we want to link to it from all over our site?
  • Have we promoted our best content by linking to it all over our site to increase organic visibility for those who might link to it themselves?
  • Have we created complementary content that provides depth and a great experience when visitors check out this individual page?

4. Good Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Metadata is the stuff that shows up in SERPs telling people what they’ll find on the page if they click through: title tags and meta descriptions.

Metadata is a prime ad spot in the most coveted travel magazine. Here, you get to tell visitors who are only one click away why your content is significant.

A good title tag summarizes the content on a page.

Additional Resources for SEO and Content Strategy

The four steps I highlighted above seem simple, but they take time. You have to consider what fits your overall organic strategy and remind yourself that you’re doing this for the right user, not for everyone on the internet. I’ve included my favorite resources from the rest of the team here at Portent that dive deeper into creating good content.

Learn SEO:

Learn Content Strategy:

SEO Strategist

José is an SEO strategist at Portent, with a background in international studies. As a self-described people-person, José enjoys connecting with clients and using strong critical thinking to deliver strategic recommendations for organic opportunities. Outside of work, he’s your go-to guy for coffee recommendations, or you can also find him refurbishing a 1984 Vanagon for future day trips.

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