Has this happened to you? You’ve written an awesome and original article, but it won’t rank for any of your targeted keywords.
If you want to rank at the top, it’s not enough to post fresh content on your website. You need to post the right content—blogs that are crafted with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind.
A recent study found that 91% of B2B marketers have a blog (along with 86% of B2C marketers). Content marketing is competitive, no doubt. But you know what most of those blogs are missing? Optimized content.
Ready to leave your competitors in the dust? All you need is a content optimization strategy. Here’s how to create content that wins over readers and ranks at the top of search engines:
What Is Content Optimization?
Back in the early days of search engine optimization, all you had to do was fill your blog with keywords, and you’d have a decent chance of ranking (a practice known as keyword stuffing). But those days are long gone. Now, SEO demands high-quality content.
By optimizing your content, you can offer more value to readers and boost your rankings. Do it right, and you will:
- Convert more users
- Rank higher in Google search results
- And increase site traffic
So, how do you do it? We’re going to break down what a winning content optimization strategy looks like:
Find the right topic and right keywords
Your content optimization strategy starts before you put any words on the page. First, you need to pick a topic, along with the relevant keywords you want to focus on.
These factors are crucial to the success of your content; they’re the foundation of any blog post. Without them, your content won’t hold much weight in Google search results.
Before you start writing, you need to do some topic and keyword research. For this step, I like to use the Keywords Explorer tool by Ahrefs.
Let’s say you’re writing a blog for a dental clinic, and you’re trying to rank for the term “cosmetic dentistry”. Type that into the tool, and we can see how much traffic it gets:
The “KD” measures the keyword difficulty; in other words, how tough it is to rank for that search term. As we can see, Ahrefs ranks this keyword as “Hard”. You’ve certainly got your work cut out for you.
If you write a general blog about this keyword, it’s very unlikely that you’ll show up in Google search results. So, let’s keep strategizing and narrow our focus. Scroll down, and you’ll see this:
Under “Terms match”, you’ll see other popular searches that contain your primary keyword. These terms tend to have lower traffic, making them less competitive. You can expand this list to get a broader range of target keywords.
The “Questions” section shows you what people are asking about this service. Answering these questions is a great way to direct the right kind of traffic to your site. By that, I mean users who are already looking to buy your service.
To get a complete list of topics, click the “View all” button under “Questions”.
Now, you have a handful of relevant topics to write about. Choose one of these that you think will interest your readers.
They say not to put all your eggs in one basket. You can apply that same logic to keywords; rather than going after just one, why not target several relevant keywords?
Boost your chances of ranking by including related keywords. I can get more ideas by using Ahrefs again.
Going back to our example of “cosmetic dentistry”, let’s take a closer look at the “Related terms” that appear:
From this list, you can choose keywords that make sense in your blog post. Try to strike a balance here; you want keywords that aren’t impossibly competitive but still get a fair bit of traffic. In an article about cosmetic dentistry, you might include “smile makeover” or “dental cosmetics near me”.
By going after related keywords, you can answer the specific questions your audience has. They’re also less competitive, so there’s a higher chance that you’ll rank for them.
Establish a good heading structure
Now, it’s time to sketch out the skeleton of your content. Planning a heading structure helps your content flow from one idea to the next.
A heading structure helps search engines understand your content. It helps you stay on track as you’re writing, too. And it improves the user experience; readers can easily find what they’re looking for.
You can understand heading structure as a hierarchy. A basic heading structure looks like this:
- H1: The title of your content. Usually, you want to include your primary keyword in it. I recommend using one H1 per page.
- H2: This is a subheading of your main topic. It might pose a question about the subject or provide more information about it.
- H3-H6: Each of these headings nest inside the one above it.
- H2: This is a subheading of your main topic. It might pose a question about the subject or provide more information about it.
Need help getting ideas for your headings? Try the Surfer Content Editor. To show you how, I’m going to generate guidelines on “cosmetic dentistry” using the content editor tool for the target keyword.
Once I click the “Outline” button, here’s what comes up:
You can click to expand each component of the outline. Let’s see what shows up when I click the “Headings” button:
If you want to dive deeper, you can also click to view the “Subheadings” of those topics. Now, you’ll have plenty of ideas on what topics to populate your blog post with. The Surfer Content Editor is a great way to create an in-depth article about any topic of your choosing.
Manage keyword density
Keyword stuffing: A practice that used to reign supreme in the SEO world. You basically inserted your keyword as many times as you could within the content (even if it had nothing to do with your topic)
Now, that same practice can actually hurt your rankings. You can’t put your target keyword in every other sentence; you need to place keywords strategically to a) help your rankings and b) improve the readability of your piece.
That means you need to watch where you put your keywords and how often you use them.
You can use the following tools to help you strike the right balance:
Surfer simplifies every part of the content optimization process. I highly recommend you read the full Surfer review here. You can use the Surfer Content Editor to balance keywords in your content. It’s simple to use and does the heavy lifting for you.
All you need to do is type in your keyword, and the tool will generate a content optimization strategy for you. Surfer pulls data from competitors that rank well for your keyword. Then, the tool generates target keyword suggestions along with NLP keywords to use, based on that content.
Sticking to our theme of “cosmetic dentistry”, here’s a look at the keywords Surfer generated for our topic:
Using these guidelines, you can see how many times to use each keyword. Try to include as many target keywords as possible while still writing content that sounds natural.
If you have too many instances of one keyword, swap it out for a synonym; otherwise, you risk being penalized for keyword stuffing.
Remember: You can’t overlook the user experience. Your content should read like a human wrote it—not a robot.
Using Page Optimizer Pro
If you’re looking to optimize content on a budget, try Page Optimizer Pro (POP). The features are more limited than Surfer, but if you just want to manage keyword density, this tool has what you need.
To get started, create a new project and plug in your target keyword. If you’re optimizing an existing web page, you can add the URL into the tool (or, if it’s a new page, leave this field blank). Then, paste in your top competitors to refine your results.
When you’re ready to go, the tool will populate the page with keyword variations, word count guidelines, and an optimization score. Get an edge over your competitors by running your content through POP.
Answer questions people are asking
Questions are like hiccups in the sales funnel. They don’t inspire your website readers to take action. Questions make them hesitate to buy what you’re offering.
Answering these questions will build trust with your reader. Trust helps them feel comfortable enough to buy what you’re offering. A recent State of Sales report by LinkedIn found that trust is an essential factor when closing a deal.
Position yourself as an authority on a subject in your industry, and you’ll build that trust naturally.
In terms of content optimization, there’s another reason why answering questions is so important:
When you have a question, what’s the first thing you do? Chances are, you reach for your phone and Google it. As a content marketer, this is where your opportunity lies. Write content that answers common questions, and you increase the chances your website will rank for those search queries. How do you find questions people are asking? It's simple just google your main topic idea or variations of it, and scroll down... Google does all the work for us here and actually displays these questions in the 'People also ask' section. Now not all searches will trigger this featured snippet to show but play around with your wording and you might just get one.
PRO TIP: If you click on a question to expand it, and then click it again to close the question, more questions will pop up!
Add and optimize images and videos
Remember when you were a kid, and you always reached for picture books over ones with words? Some things don’t change—when it comes to blogs, people like pictures.
Images help make your article more eye-catching to readers. Your blog post will get more traffic if you add photos and videos to it.
As you might expect, you need to optimize any pictures and videos you include—just like the rest of your content!
With all the work you’ve put into writing content, you don’t want a slow-loading page that frustrates readers. 1 in 4 users will click away if your page doesn’t load within 4 seconds! And in many cases, images and videos are to blame. That’s why you need to optimize them.
How to optimize images and videos
Alt text: It's used to describe an image. If a page is slow to load, you’ll see the alt text populate in the image container.
It was originally designed for better accessibility; those with visual impairments can read the alt text if they have trouble seeing the on-page image.
But it serves another purpose, too: Search engines use it to index your content. Try including a target keyword in the alt text, as long as it makes sense with the image.
To add alt text, go to the content manager on your website, and right-click on an image. Go to the image settings, and you should see a field that reads “Alt Text”.
Then, add your description! Try to be specific, concise, and accurate.
You can skip adding words like “image of'” or “picture of”. Just jump right into the description.
Next up is choosing the format of your image or video. Here’s the rundown on selecting a file type:
- Use PNGs for basic or transparent images
- Use JPEGs for colorful or complex images (although I personally use WEBP extensions instead of JPEG)
- Use GIFs for animated images
- Use SVG for logos
Another way to optimize an image is by changing the file name. Instead of uploading a photo called “IMG_4729083747.jpg”, rename it using a more descriptive title! Plus, it gives you another opportunity to include a target keyword. Ideally, you want to use an image title that’s similar to the alt text.
Try not to embed too many videos on one page; even when compressed, videos can slow down a page significantly.
Finally, you can reduce the file size of the media. Big images and videos slow down your page speed, which is a crucial ranking factor.
Don’t worry: You can compress the file without making the photo too grainy. You just need to strike a balance between reducing the file size and maintaining the quality.
What’s the optimal size? I recommend compressing image so they are no larger than 250kb. You can try out different sizes to see which looks best.
Also called interlinking, this is when you add links to your own website. An internal link points readers to other pages on your site.
Through interlinking, you can pass on the authority and relevance of one page to the next.
When search engine bots crawl your page, they’ll follow your links. This helps them find other pages more easily (and, therefore, helps those pages get indexed).
You can link to:
- Supporting pages. Have you already covered a similar topic? Drop a link to it in your blog post. This gives your reader a useful resource and encourages them to spend more time on your website. For example, in an article about the benefits of cosmetic dentistry, you could link to another blog post about teeth whitening.
- Landing pages. If you’re writing blog posts that promote your products or services, it’s natural to link to those pages. Push your reader further along in the sales funnel with an internal link.
- Contact page. CTAs are a powerful conversion tool. If you’re asking the reader to call or send an email, linking them to a contact form leads them to the next step.
Cover the topic in-depth
Comparing your content to a competitor’s can be incredibly useful. It helps you identify gaps in your own content and see what other people are writing about your topic.
But you don’t want to just copy your competitors.
You want to do it better.
That’s the key to ranking above them.
The first part’s easy. Once you’ve chosen a topic, enter it into your search engine of choice, and read the top results.
For this step, I recommend pulling in an outside source. You’re looking for something that doesn’t already exist online to give your readers unique value.
If possible, try to collect new information on the topic. Use data from your experience to make an infographic or small study. Share client success stories or case studies. Use research from your past projects to give new insights. Reach out to your customers—are there any topics they want more information about?
The key here is to differentiate your content from other web pages. Even if you use similar topics and headings as other articles, try to make the content itself unique.
Update your content
Imagine, for a moment, that your site ranks at the top of Google’s search results. All your hard work has paid off, and your high-quality content has risen to the top. You’re ready to kick back and watch your site traffic skyrocket.
But here’s the thing about SEO: It’s always changing. What ranks #1 one month might be on page 2 the next. If you want to maintain your rankings, you need to update your content regularly. Here’s why:
- It’s easier than starting from scratch. You don’t need to go back to the drawing board. Using the same topic, keywords, and outline, you can add new content to bump up your positions in SERPs.
- Increase relevancy with fresh information. Even evergreen content needs the occasional update. A statistic you cited one year can be updated with new data the next. Show search engines that your content is relevant by using accurate, up-to-date information.
- Use your existing authority. Since your page was first published, it’s gained some initial traction. Keep that momentum going by improving on your initial concept. Make the necessary changes, and you can leverage the authority of the existing piece for faster results.
Have you noticed a drop in rankings? Rather than starting a new blog post, consider tweaking an existing one.
You can run the same piece through Surfer and compare it with competitor sites that are now ranking ahead of you. Alter the target keywords or heading structure to re-optimize your content.
Maybe the post needs more content; maybe you need to do more keyword research. Our world is constantly changing. So too should your content!
Optimizing Content for Converting
With each piece of content you write, you have two main goals: To improve your search engine rankings and to boost your sales. I’ve spent most of this post discussing the first, so let’s turn our attention to the second.
In the end, all the traffic in the world won’t make a difference if your content doesn’t convert. I’m doing to delve into how you can convert leads into paying customers:
Focus on Your Target Audience
Who are you writing to? Keep your target audience in mind as you write. This way, you’ll speak directly to your intended reader. You’ll write the way you actually talk, not like a robot.
Your content will convert better when you tailor it to a specific reader. It won’t sound generic or fluffy; it will engage users and hold their attention.
Think About CTAs
Calls to action (CTAs) are a powerful content marketing tool. As readers, we like being told what to do. We don’t want to think about what the next step is—we want someone else to lay it out for us. With a CTA, that’s exactly what you’re doing; you’re encouraging a reader to take action.
CTAs don’t have to be fancy—in fact, it’s best if they’re not. With any CTA, it’s imperative to be absolutely clear about what you want your reader to do. Do you want them to…
- Call your business?
- Book an appointment online?
- Sign up for your newsletter?
Then tell them so! Conclude every piece of content you write with a strong CTA. This leaves your reader with a clear sense of direction about what to do next.
I suggest sticking to one CTA per post. If you use more than one, it gives your reader mixed messages and makes them less likely to take action.
You’ve spent a lot of time choosing keywords, outlining your content, and planning an internal linking structure. But high-quality content isn’t just about what you write—it’s about the way you write—the words you use, how you punctuate your sentences, and the clarity of your content.
Proper grammar may not be a ranking factor, but it’s a big one for the user experience. If you need help proofreading, check out this tool:
Nothing harms your credibility faster than a typo. With all the work you’ve put into your SEO strategy, it’s only natural that your tired eyes might skip over a spelling error or two. Grammarly does more than check for typos—it helps you clarify your content and write with confidence.
Setting up Grammarly is simple. First, install the add-on to whichever word processor you use. If you install the browser extension, you can use Grammarly to check your emails, docs, and Slack messages. The free version offers general grammar and spelling tips, but if you need more in-depth feedback, consider upgrading to the premium version. Read my full review of Grammerly here.
Do you go anywhere without your phone these days? Probably not. I’m willing to bet your customers don’t, either.
That would explain why mobile search is so popular. These pocket-sized devices are responsible for 54.4% of global website traffic. If your content isn’t optimized for mobile, then half of your customers are getting a poor user experience.
Before your content goes live, check how it looks on your phone. Does the font size need to be bigger? Are the images slowing down the page speed? Test your mobile site speed to find out if you need to tweak it.
I’ve covered a few on-page elements already; you know how to compress images, use an internal link structure, and avoid keyword stuffing. Here are a few other factors to consider:
- Optimize your meta description and meta title. A meta description is a ~155-160 summary of your page content. Use it to describe your web page and include a keyword if it fits naturally. Then, write a catchy page title; this entices users to click your website and tells search engines the main topic of your page.
- Include outbound links. Back up your content with credible sources. Outbound links are outside resources like statistics, think-pieces, and studies. Include a few outbound links in your content to show that it’s well-researched.
- Check your Core Web Vitals. This report measures the quality of a user’s experience on your site; it looks at page speed, visual stability, and accessibility. To view your report (and learn how to improve it), go to Google Search Console.
You’ve done almost everything to optimize your content. That leaves just one thing left: The page URL.
Take a look at the URL of your post. How long is it? Ideally, you want a short URL—no more than 75 characters. Try to include your target keyword in the URL to boost your relevancy for that term. If the title of your page already includes the keyword, then this part is easy.
A URL that aligns with your content helps search engines understand what your page is about. If your URL seems too long or doesn’t accurately describe your page, consider tweaking it.
Want to see if all your hard work paid off? Find out how your content is performing by analyzing your metrics. You can monitor your site traffic in Google Search Console.
Your content won’t start ranking overnight; it takes time for Google to crawl and index your website. But it sure feels great when you optimize content and watch it rise in search results.
Keep a close eye on your metrics; they’re always changing. I recommend monitoring your metrics long after your content goes live. If rankings start to drop, you can find out which posts are underperforming and re-optimize them accordingly.
And there you have it: All you need to know about optimizing content in 2022. I’ve covered just about everything, from picking a topic to refining your on-page SEO. With this guide, you can write content that ranks—fast. Use these tips whenever you’re drafting new content or updating an existing page.