Make content marketing a pillar of your SEO.
Learn how to carry out keyword research and author the right type of content to own your topic.
High-quality content is the best currency for reaching and engaging consumers.
Don’t just take my word for it, the above quote comes directly from Think With Google.
Content marketing can mean many things to different people. In my practice of SEO, content marketing overlaps with expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (EAT), can fuel link building, and is often an overlooked strategy to dominate local searches.
What does Google mean by “high-quality” content?
Let’s dive into search intent, keyword research, topical relevance, topic clusters, and topical authority so that you can reach and engage the people you want to.
Let’s get started.
- What is content marketing?
- What is search intent and why does it matter in SEO?
- What’s the difference between navigational, informational, and transactional intent keywords?
- What is topical authority and how does it differ from domain authority?
- How is topical authority achieved?
- What is a topic cluster?
- How many topic clusters should be in each pillar topic?
- How many words should I write?
- Does long form content rank better in Google Search?
- What is better content and how do you write better content than what’s already ranking in the SERPs?
- Use my exact content brief template
- Does frequency of publishing new material on a website matter in SEO?
- What is keyword research? Why is it important and what does it look like?
- Does keyword search volume matter?
- How to do keyword research in under 10 minutes without any tools
- This is what a topical map looks like
- How to transform your keyword research into a topical map
- How to decide what topics and subtopics to include or exclude
- How many pages does a topic cluster need to have?
- Compare and versus keywords: how to capture this important search intent
- How often should you do keyword research?
- Should you use the same keywords as your competitors?
- How to do keyword research for businesses that are disrupting an industry where there is no search volume (e.g., startups)
- Topical relevance: how to measure and track your content marketing across time
- How long does it take to achieve topical authority?
- How to identify underperforming pages.
- When should you update/refresh the content on a page?
- When should you combine blog posts, articles or pages into one?
- How to combine blog posts, articles or pages without losing organic traffic
- When should you delete underperforming pages?
- Before you delete any page on your website follow this checklist
Things you should know.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing in SEO is the process of demonstrating your expertise and knowledge about a given subject matter.
While backlinks can be removed and can become a liability, purposeful content that sits on your website become an asset to your business.
I often refer to content marketing as customer education. That is, giving searchers the answers that they seek and helping them reach a decision. In some cases, they may choose to take action and in other cases, based on the information that you have provided, decide that they do not need to take an immediate course of action.
Content marketing is not selling. It is not pushing a product or service on a person, but rather, understanding what the person is hoping to achieve.
Many searches do not lead to a conversion and that’s ok.
In a broader context, content marketing can be thought as a tool for brand positioning. If your website shows up consistently in Google Search, people are more likely to recognize you and trust you when they’re ready to commit to a purchase.
My strategic approach to content marketing is based on a concept of developing topical relevance with the goal of achieving topical authority through topic clusters. And my framework for achieving topical authority for ecommerce, SaaS, and attorney practices is 100% based on fulfilling a real person’s search intent and pairing it with the best information.
What is search intent and why does it matter in content marketing?
Why do people search for things on Google?
They want to find an answer to either corroborate what they already know, to find an opposing opinion, or to learn something they do not know. Or who knows, perhaps they’re looking for cat videos.
Search intent is the ‘why’ behind any Google search.
FYI, search intent = user intent.
When someone searches for ‘home loan’, are they looking for information as a prospective home buyer? Do they want to know what the current interest rates are? Are they hoping to find some mortgage lenders?
We don’t know.
How does Google know?
Well, search engines are information retrieval systems and when you search for something on Google, within seconds the search engine returns thousands of results.
It is quite an amazing system.
So how does Google know what websites and webpages to serve for each query?
Short answer: search intent.
Long answer: a very complex system of crawling, rendering and indexing the entire internet, an exhaustive process of machine learning, and probably some sophisticated way of determining which sites are trustworthy.
Going back to the example of ‘home loans’, this is why when you search for a head-term, Google returns a mixture of results.
You may notice some product pages and some informational pages.
When someone searches for ‘best home loan rates’, they’ve provided more context. From this we can deduce that they want to see information about interest rates. But not just interest rates, but the best rates available for buying property.
What is the difference between navigational, information, and transactional intent keywords?
Marketers have tried to pair human behavior with models. This is where the concept of navigational keywords, informational keywords, commercial keywords, and transactional keywords comes from.
A navigational keyword is when someone types ‘Walmart’ into Google in order to get to the Walmart website. Navigational keywords are usually brand names.
An informational keyword is typical one that starts with ‘what is’, ‘when is’, ‘where is’ ‘how is’, and ‘why is’ where the user is looking to find an answer about the subject matter.
A transactional keyword is when someone types ‘near me’ or ‘where to buy’. Transactional keywords are supposed to represent a readiness to buy. Some SEOs believe specific product searches represent a transactional keyword (e.g., unisex blue sweater vs sweater).
However, people don’t always know what they’re looking for and informational keywords can lead to sales while your typical transactional keywords may perform poorly.
This is why bucketing search intent into navigational, information, and transactional is problematic because there are often overlaps between these categories.
What is topical authority and how does it differ to domain authority?
Topical authority is when Google recognizes that your website is a credible source of information for a particular industry, niche, or subject matter based on the quality of the information that you publish.
Domain authority is a concept of measurement based on backlinks. Google has its own PageRank algorithm that it no longer discloses. Many SEO tools try to emulate this with their own metrics such as Domain Authority (DA), Domain Rating (DR), and Authority Score (AS).
Topical authority is the process of building out relevance for a given topic. When done well, Google will associate a particular topic to a website over time.
Content marketing starts with empathy – understanding what your target audience needs.
Topical relevance starts with publishing useful information. This should be based on keyword research.
Topical authority begins to develop when you internally link relevant pages to each other as well as to your sales page.
Topical authority has no score but can easily be seen in the SERPs. When you achieve topical authority, your pages will tend to perform well in organic search for short tail and long tail keywords.
In my opinion, domain authority can be easily faked whereas topical authority is rewarded to sites who are committed to bringing the best information and solutions for their website visitors.
How can I achieve topical authority for my website?
You can achieve topical authority through consistency and having a clear content marketing strategy.
Forget about ‘blogging’. Instead, map out as many questions and conversion-blockers you can and address these on your website.
What are the reasons why people need your product or service?
Address these on your website.
What are the reasons why people are hesitant to purchase your product or engage with your service?
Address these on your website.
What are alternatives to your product/service that people consider?
Address these on your website.
A bridal stop can publish how-to guides on picking a wedding dress. You can then publish other how-to guides about sizing, styles, silhouettes, and floral pairings. Each of these guides will help your website gain topical relevance for weddings and wedding gowns. And with some thoughtful internal linking, you can help Google help your organic search traffic.
Similarly, a law firm that specializes in criminal matters can publish easy-to-understand explanations in each area of criminal law. Doing this across time will help Google associate your website to criminal law matters.
And the way you can work on achieving topical authority is through topic clusters.
What is a topic cluster?
A topic cluster is a group of related pages that covers a subject matter.
The following forced-crawl diagram from Screaming Frog is a visualization of what a topic cluster a pest control business has created.
The broad subject matter is pest control and within this, there is another broad topic of cockroaches.
In the above example, you can see how the website has created a group of related content that covers the subject of cockroaches (i.e.g, how to prevent cockroaches, species, diseases, FAQs, infestation information, fumigation as a solution).
Publishers tend to have more topic clusters due to the number of broad topics that they cover (as shown in the following forced-crawl diagram).
All types of businesses and websites can leverage topic clusters – even for transactional sites such as ecommerce websites.
How many clusters should each pillar topic have?
You should have as many clusters as the subject area requires.
Certain broader topics may warrant 30+ clusters of related content while other broad topics may required only 5.
Understand the needs of your audience and plan your content marketing strategy accordingly.
This is how I decide whether or not to invest time into a particular cluster:
Is this something that someone would find useful?
If yes – proceed.
If no – work on something else.
How many words should you write?
There is no such thing as “SEO content”. This is an outdated method that no longer works because you can just as easily rank with 200 words as with 2,000 words. It all depends on the context of search intent.
When I develop topic clusters, these are the questions that I ask myself:
- What is the solution that a person is seeking?
- Can I give them the solution without a lengthy introduction?
- Do I need to explain the problem or should I get straight to the point?
In most cases, topic clusters do not need to be wordy because the user already knows what their problem is. Therefore, when you write customer education material, get straight to the point!
Content marketing is the process of making your information better than any other webpage. Focus on making your content relevant, actionable, and easy-to-read.
Use headings, line breaks and bullet points to your advantage and minimise lengthy introductions and explanations.
How will you know that it is working?
I prefer to measure the efficacy of content marketing with two free tools:
- Google Search Console, and;
- Google Analytics
When done well, you will start to see an increase in impressions in Google Search Console. And as the average position (keyword rankings) improve across time, you will start to see an increase in clicks to your pages from Google Search.
With each passing month, you should expect to see an increase in queries. If you don’t see this, you should take a look at the coverage tab to see if there are any crawling, rendering or indexing issues with your website (technical SEO).
Using Google Analytics, you can filter for organic traffic and observe how people engage with your topic clusters. For example, how many pages do people browse per session? Do they click to other related content? If so, what are they? If not, why?
Content marketing is not a direct sales channel but it can help with direct conversions. By identifying which pages are performing well and which pages are underperforming, you can make decisions on which pages to improve and include stronger call-to-actions so that all that organic traffic can be funnelled towards a sales conversion.