The Most Straight Forward Guide To SEO For Content Marketers In 2018

Doing SEO for any type of content is one of the most difficult things out there when it comes to marketing. It’s a crowded market and you don’t have a ton of content to ramp things up, but good news is that it still works really well when done propertly.

I incorporate all the following SEO tactics when doing any sort of content marketing for both my clients that I consult as well as my own projects and it works well even in 2018.

Truth is that SEO still works and it’ll allow users to discover your product through their searches.

In this guide, I’ll cover the best practices for optimizing your rankings in Google. Hopefully, SaaS companies, marketers, and other entrepreneurs can learn a bit from this guide. I’ll try to make it as easy and straightforward as possible.

The ranking factors in SEO

I’m not going to go into the history behind SEO or what SEO is. I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this guide that you already know what SEO is, so let’s just cut the chase and go straight into the most important aspect of SEO.

Ranking factors…

What makes your content or website stand out from Google’s point of view?

If you’re just starting off, you should read Google’s webmaster guidlines. It’s a good introduction on how their rankings work.

The truth is that no expert in the SEO space can tell you exactly what makes your content rank higher on Google. It’s always changing and heck maybe even people who work in Google themselves don’t know. It’s a secret.

With that said, there’s a lot of ranking factors that are proven to help your article rank over time.

They are:

  • Keyword present in <title>;
  • Keyword present in <h1>;
  • Keyword present in <h2>;
  • Keyword present in <p>aragraphs;
  • Number of backlinks and internal links
  • Anchor text of links to any specific page on your website
  • Content length;
  • Content shares;
  • Unique content
  • Load speed of your site.

The tech stack that you use to build your app/site in matters as well. It’s not that certain tech stack isn’t Google friendly, it’s just hard to have Google crawl and index certain tech stacks. This includes ones like React, Native Node, Angular etc.

If you have a dedicated expert in SEO on your team, then it won’t be a problem, but if you’re bootstrapped then using a solution like WordPress can bring you in quicker results.

This is because there are plugins out there that can help with that such as Yoast SEO. It’ll save you a bunch of time.

If you are just focused on building a great product or tweaking things on your site to try to “optimize” when you have not laid a solid base and do not have any links, you will not do as well as you otherwise could.

I do understand that most SaaS apps are built on top of the tech stacks mentioned above. Heck, I built all my previous startups using Ruby on Rails, so I understand the pain.

The good news is that as long as you have well-structured pages that load fast, are accessible from other pages on your site, target keywords that have search volume, invest in unique content written for users and conversions, and acquire links to your domain and your individual pages, then you have a much better chance at ranking very well.

Technical SEO

Alright, we hear this term a lot, but what the heck is it exactly?

Technical SEO just refers to any SEO work that is done aside from the content. Essentially, it’s laying a strong foundation to give your content the best chance it can have to rank for relevant keywords and phrases.

One thing to note is that Google does not crawl pages within your app unless you literally tell them to, but I wouldn’t see why you would want Google crawling your user’s dashboard anyway.

Here’s an example and case study of things you can do to improve the technical side of SEO:

Zoompf analyzed the top 1,000 Alexa-ranked sites for site speed and found that the following four problems were the most common (in order from most to least):

  1. unoptimized images
  2. content served without HTTP compression
  3. too many CSS image requests (not using sprites)
  4. no caching information (expires header)

Usually people refer to load speed when talking about ranking factors for technical SEO. The reason behind this is because if you fix all your load speed issues, then most of the technical SEO side of things will progress with it.

Here are some solutions for common slow load speed problems:

If you are concerned about your web app being crawled, then there are ways to ensure that it is not crawled such as:

  1. Put it on a subdomain and block that subdomain in robots.txt;
  2. Put any logged in pages in a subfolder that you can then block in robots. txt (eg site.com/app/ and then Disallow: /app/)

I see many SaaS companies use something like WordPress for their “marketing site”, and then a custom web app on a subdomain. This is a great way to seperate your main app and a blog for example.

Meta elements

For every page on your site, there are meta elements in your documents’s <head> that should be present to help the search engines understand what your page is about. This is just as important as load speed.

The meta elements you must include on your pages are:

  1. Title tag – this is the text that shows in the search engines results pages. Keep this short.
  2. Meta Description –The summary of the page that appears in Google search.
  3. Rel tags – This tells the search engines the original source of the content
  4. Robot text – index, no follow, follow etc.
  5. Open graph (Twitter/Facebook) tags.

Without getting too in depth, those are the basics that you’ll need in terms of meta elements for ranking well on Google.

The most important out of the above is the title tag. That is what tells Google what your site is about and will relate to what people are searching for within your industry.

Make sure that you always include your targeted keyword within your title tag for all pages.

Meta Descriptions

The second most important factor in technical SEO is the Meta description.

Historically the meta description would be truncated around 160 characters, though in late 2017 Google announced that they were expanding this across their search results to around 300 characters.

If you’re using a plugin like Yoast for WordPress, you can edit the meta description easily. If not, then you would need to insert it yourself within your meta tags.

The meta description will tell the user who’s searching for your product what you’re looking for. Think of it as a book summary.

Canonical Tag

The canonical tag is a meta tag is a way to help control duplicate content. The canonical tag is a suggestion to the search engines that tells them the original source of the content.

This is useful if you’re repurposing content.

It looks something like this – <link rel=”canonical” href=”https://sumodash.com/guide/”>

If you’re a content marketer like me and like to put stuff on other sites like Medium, then the canonical tag becomes very useful. It tells Google which one is the real source of original content.

Again, if you’re already using something like Yoast, then they deal with this for you.

Robot Txt

Not sure why it’s named robot since I don’t see any robots involved, but it’s important when it comes to technical SEO as well.

The default is “index, follow”, meaning the search engines should crawl and index the page. It also tells Google to look within that specific page to find other links to crawl as well.

If you do not want a page to be indexed, then you can set the meta robots tag to the following:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”>

This is what most people refer to as no follow for backlink building.

For example, you might not want certain landing pages to be crawled. In that situation, you would do a no follow or noindex. Simple 🙂

Most of the time all of these including your robot.txt can be configured within Google’s search console.

If you don’t have that set up already, it is important that you go there now and set it up, then have Google fetch and crawl it.

On page SEO optimization

Before moving forward to more advanced topics, it is important that your on page SEO is optimized for your product or content.

Some of the biggest and most common mistakes I see that content marketers get wrong in the beginning are the following:

  • H1 targeting wrong keywords
  • H2 targeting wrong terms; most of the time they are targeting other keywords
  • H3s nested under H2s where necessary
  • Not enough context related to search topics etc.

The way on-page SEO works is that the search engines use different on-page elements to determine the page’s relevance for a certain term.

When it comes down to on page SEO optimization, you need to understand what Google is looking for in terms of priority.

In order of how search engines value on-page elements, your target keyword term should be in:

  1. Your title; try to include it in the beginning if possible
  2. Your URL; don’t make the URL too long
  3. Your H1
  4. Your H2
  5. Your H3
  6. Throughout your content (context).

Along with the above, your key pages need to be linked from other main pages so that they are passed link equity that provides the strength they need to begin ranking.

The easy way to do keyword research

There are a ton of guides out there that teaches keyword research and most of them cover the basics or get too complicated.

I’m personally not a huge fan of using all those keyword research tools, even though it can be helpful.

The only tool that I enjoy using is Google’s keyword planner. It’s true, it doesn’t have a lot of features that their competitors have, but it works.

There’s actually an easier way to do it without having to use any tools.

Start by generating topics with intent

While search engines still use keywords to determine what a page is about, they also now have a deeper understanding of what that specific keyword or keyword term is about and the other terms that it relates to. From this they build topics.

This means that keywords itself just isn’t enough. Back in the days, you can stuff your article with certain keywords and you’ll skyrocket in rankings.

Now, Google is a lot smarter.

We have to create topics based on user intent.

Think from your customer’s shoes. What are they searching for online? If you were to search online for a guide on how to polish your shoes, would you type in polish shoes or would you type in how to polish your shoes?

Again, think from a human’s perspective and not just keywords.

Ask yourself (and write down the answers to) these questions:

  • What does your product do?
  • Who is your product for?
  • What features does your product offer?

Then come up with topics based on that.

The easy way is to use Google Suggest.

You can easily access Google suggest by going to Google and typing in a snippet of what you’re looking for. Google will populate what people are searching for. It’s really that simple. See the picture below.

seo guide for content marketers

In that example, you could easily come up with ideas through that.

The second method that I LOVE is using AnswerThePublic. Type in any keyword and they’ll give you a beautiful visual of what to look for.

Competitor research

The third method that I like to use when coming up with topics and keywords is by looking at what my competitors are ranking for. What are they using?

Depending on your competitors, they may or may not be doing a great job with SEO and thus just doing competitor analysis will leave other potential profitable and traffic-driving keywords out of the list.

If you want to get advanced, you can use a tool like SEMRush to find related keywords and view their backlinks etc.

If you’re on a budget, just use Moz.

Link building

Let’s go into the bread and butter to SEO rankings – link building.

If you want to rank, you need links to your website from other websites. Now it’s not 100% necessary, but it can help A LOT if you have quality backlinks from other websites, especially other websites that have high authority in their industry.

The more and better links you have, the stronger your website and the better you rank.

Building links is about improving your website’s strength to rank better.

These are the links that search engines want to reward.

But it’s not that simple because there are different types of backlinks.

There are two kinds of links:

  • Followed
  • Nofollowed

Followed links are the links that pass link equity and are guaranteed to help you rank better. If a link is followed and from a strong relevant website, then this is the best link you can get to help your rankings.

You can determine if links are nofollow by right clicking on any site and viewing the page’s source to see if they have a “no-follow” in front of their links.

It used to be that links are always followed, but website owners got smarter and made a lot of their links no followed.

In 2018, the following are proven strategies for link building:

  • Manual outreach – emailing site owners, writers etc. to have them link to you
  • Resource page linking – Find resource pages within your industry and have them add your site to the list
  • Scholarship programs – This is an older SEO trick that still works. Create a scholarship program and have education websites link to it.
  • Infographics – This one is super tough and requires a team, but it can be done. Have websites that post similar content and send them an infographic in exchange for a link.
  • Industry roundups – These work well because companies are willing to share your work in their Press page.
  • Guest posting – This still works because it still gets you a link but a lot of media sites are making this nofollow.

There’s a lot more, but these are the most effective and quickest way of doing linkbuilding.

Conclusion

Alright, that’s enough for now! I tried to make this as straight forward as possible for any content marketer to get things rolling with SEO and keyword research. Hopefully you learned something from this article and best of luck.

Make sure you track everything. All you need is something basic like Google Analytics.

If you need any help on growth strategies, content marketing, or writing content in general, you can always reach out to me at wilsonpeng23@gmail.com or tweet to me @itswilson8

 

Building A Content Strategy That Works In 2018

Content marketing has become very popular in the last decade. But for all that growth, there seems to be more noise and lower quality than ever. What we’re seeing is an influx of spending and a massive increase in content creation, but a lack of content marketing strategy.

Content is a significant investment in your marketing. It also takes time to pay off, which is where many SaaS companies get into trouble. Unlike paid acquisition channels, you can’t turn content on and off. It takes months, even years, to build momentum. If you’re going to spend that much time working on a blog, you better have a content marketing strategy.

How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy

A blog is only as good as the content marketing strategy behind it. Here are the questions you must answer before and during—these are essential to earning traffic and proving that your company’s investment is getting them a return.

  1. Who Will You Write For?
  2. What Will You Write About?
  3. When Will You Publish?
  4. How Will You Earn Traffic?
  5. How Will You Support the Business?
  6. Content Marketing Tools

1. Who Will You Write For?

Your target readers should be living, breathing people, not fictitious personas. Target readers should be people you know and trust, people that you’d be honored to have reading your blog.

It’s important to use real people and not fictitious personas because it affects your approach to creating content. Creating content for “SaaS Sally” is very different than writing for your friend Ty Magnin who runs marketing at Appcues. You’ll hold yourself to a higher standard if you’re writing for real people. Fictitious personas also tend to reflect the average, not the median. This means you risk writing for a person well outside the stated demographics.

Be thoughtful about the personas you create. “Reaching decision-makers” is a trope. Every content marketing strategy aspires to reach the C-suite. But consider that software is often adopted by a collection of people:

  • Leader: sets the strategic vision, holds team accountable
  • Implementor: the people using and setting up SaaS tools
  • Researcher: the person tasked with learning about various tools and capabilities

Reaching readers in the C-suite is hard, but it’s actually not good enough. This is why you need to create content for the entire payscale—anyone who could be involved in the research, buying or using of your tool needs to be addressed. We think of this on a spectrum from very tactical to very strategic.

Tactical readers need information, comparisons, instructions and best practices. Strategic readers need models, frameworks and principles. Your blog needs a variety of tactical and strategic content to be comprehensive. For a more complete breakdown of writing tactical and strategic content, check out our guide to creating reader personas.

Remember that your ideal reader is the one who buys your product. It’s easy to get distracted by pageviews and newsletter subscribers, but the goal of a SaaS blog is to drive business growth. Identify your ideal reader and serve them well.

Resources:

2. What Will You Write About?

Topic ideation is something to be systematized. But first, let’s layout a framework to help you understand the best way to choose topics.

Your blog is not a publication, it’s a growing library of information. There are many reasons you need to adopt this mindset, but here’s one guiding principle that should be enough reason on its own.

  • Blogs that act like publications create series of standalone posts on different topics. They are hesitant to cover the same topic more than once.
  • Blogs that act like libraries create hubs of related posts. They have the freedom to cover the same core topics over and over again.

This strategy pairs nicely with another content marketing strategy essential, which is that people should primarily discover you via search. Since readers aren’t checking your site each time you post something new, you can write about the same thing for weeks in a row. No one will care since they are finding what they need, when they need it via search engines.

Most of your topics should be driven by 1) keyword research and 2) sales and support feedback. Use keyword research to identify entry points for new readers. Keywords should be top and middle of the funnel, meaning they serve searchers who are looking for information and education. Create content for the bottom of the funnel by talking to your sales and support teams about what prospects and customers are having trouble with. This process helps you address the entire lifecycle, from awareness through purchase.

  • Top of Funnel: Use keyword research to address high-level topics, introduce new readers to your brand.
  • Middle of Funnel: Use keyword research in addition to sales and support feedback to tie problems to your specific solution.
  • Bottom of Funnel: Use sales and support feedback to write directly about your product.

Here are examples of each from Wistia:

Top of the Funnel: Shooting Video with an iPhone

This post introduces anyone interested in shooting better video with an iPhone to some really useful tips. Many of the people who find this post won’t be ready to buy Wistia, but some will be doing research for a work project and will remember this resource.

Middle of the Funnel: Using Video with Marketing Automation

This post is textbook middle of the funnel content. It inserts the product directly into a conversation about a broader and highly relevant topic (marketing automation). It’s thorough and insightful, with just the right amount of sales pitch.

Bottom of the Funnel: Get Better Organized and More Productive with the New Wistia Trello Power-Up

Product updates are a great way to educate existing customers and nudge prospects. When you’re targeting the bottom of the funnel, don’t be shy about addressing your product.

To wrap up, don’t forget these two rules about topic ideation:

  • Write about the same core topics from every angle.
  • Serve the entire lifecycle, from top to bottom.

Resources:

3. When Will You Publish?

It’s impossible to write too much, but it’s easy to publish too much.

“A lot of content marketers worry about not publishing enough,” says Podia CMO Len Markidan, “but the truth is that publishing too much is a more dangerous mistake. Write something that your readers will love, and then give them time to enjoy it, share it and hunger for more. This lands at the very top of the list of ‘things I wish someone told me when I started.’”

Remember the publication vs. library framework? Well, publications also sometimes get into the habit of publishing too often. The result is typically shorter, less valuable pieces of content. This is not ideal.

The ideal publishing schedule is relative to your budgetary constraints. Still, it’s difficult to scale publishing volume without sacrificing quality no matter how much money you can afford to spend. As a general rule, publish as often as you can without dropping your quality standards. There’s no use publishing content that won’t get read.

Here’s are publishing schedule templates you can use depending on your budget:

Level 1:

1 article/week
1 ebook/quarter

Level 2:

2 articles/week
1 ebook/month

Level 3:

3 articles/week
2 ebooks/month

Remember that a good content marketing strategy is all about compounding growth. Level 1 may not seem like much, but will result in 52 articles per year. Brian Dean grew Backlinko to 100,000 monthly uniques with just 35 posts. Level 3 will get you 153 posts in a year, but it doesn’t guarantee traffic. Don’t publish more if that time or money compromises time spent doing solid keyword research and great promotion and distribution.

Resources:

4. How Will You Earn Traffic?

Here’s the golden rule of content marketing strategy: compounding growth is the only growth.

Don’t invest significant time in non-recurring acquisition channels. When it comes down to it, organic search and your own email list are the only channels you can count on.

Organic Search

You should be thinking about organic search from day one and everyday thereafter. It’s essential that you gain traction in search engines if you want to grow your audience. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Internal linking: Go on Wikipedia and observe how they link all of their entries together. Apply the same strategy to your own site by linking to and from related posts. This helps search engines contextualize your site and reduces bounce rate.
  • Technical SEO: Your site structure, navigation, meta descriptions, canonical links—it all plays into your rankings. If you don’t have an internal SEO resource, hire a consultant to make sure you aren’t working harder than you need to.
  • Content Saturation: If you’ve been in the habit of publishing too much, consider deleting or refreshing old content. Pages that live on your site and don’t get traffic can hurt your rankings. And if you do decide to remove pages, do so carefully.
  • Content Length and Depth: Most research says that longer posts rank better. That fits nicely with the idea of publishing less often but does require plenty of writing. Brian Dean recommends a minimum of 1,900 words per post.

Email

Organic traffic compounds faster than email, meaning it should be the primary source of growth. But email is a medium that you have complete control over. It’s not a channel for new reader acquisition, but it is an excellent way to drive traffic to middle and bottom of the funnel content. Here’s a template for email that most SaaS companies can use:

  • Weekly Content Newsletter: Get readers in the habit of hearing from you each week.
  • Regular Product Updates: Let people know about product updates. This is a good way to tie education to your solution.
  • Free Email Course: This is an underrated way to capture email addresses on top of funnel posts. These can be short—three to five emails in a series—but should be comprehensive.
  • New Subscriber Welcome Series: Let new readers know about your product, what it does and how it can help them.
  • Free Trial Onboarding Series: Use a blend of help docs and content to get people going. They should feel well-equipped and inspired.
  • Recurring Emails: Weekly or monthly usage emails. These are a great opportunity to use content to help people make progress in areas where they are lacking. (Example: “You haven’t created a new campaign in a while, here’s some inspiration from our blog.”)
  • Retention Email Series: Highly targeted emails for users who aren’t engaging in the product. Use a blend of content, questions and help docs to get them going again. Test these emails early and often.

There are, of course, other ways to get traffic but they tend to be fickle and temporary. Should you invest at least some time in things like social media, communities and guest posting? Yes, but never take your eye off organic search.

Resources:

5. How Will You Support the Business?

Content marketers need to get very used to the phrase business objectives. Traffic is great. Email subscribers are great. But those things cost you money. The only thing that makes you money is recruiting more paying customers.

There are plenty of popular blogs out there that don’t drive business growth. A comprehensive content marketing strategy includes monetization. Here are four things that absolutely cannot be overlooked as you start, grow and run a blog.

Let Readers Know About Your Product

You have to assume that readers do not know there is a software product behind your content. It’s likely that they have 10 tabs open, Twitter notifications coming in and a meeting that starts in five minutes. Make it abundantly clear that they are on a SaaS product site, not just a blog. To do this:

  • Consider using a conversational messaging tool like Drift or Intercom to ask questions of readers while they are on your site. (Example: “Is there something about [topic] that we can help you with?”)
  • Keep your blog in a sub-folder, not a sub-domain and definitely not on Medium. You want your main site navigation menu on all blog pages. The ideal URL is saasinc.com/blog, not blog.saasinc.com.
  • Use author bios to let people know who they are hearing from. A post from “Jessica, head of marketing at SaaS Inc.” inspires more confidence than “Tom, freelance writer.”
  • Use product language in the header, footer and sidebar. Don’t be shy about offering free trials, showing testimonials or using social proof to show that people love the product.
  • Use contextual calls to action. If a post is about push notifications, use a CTA about push notifications.

Capture Email Addresses

99% of readers won’t be ready to buy now, but many will need your product in the future. This creates an attribution problem that makes measuring content difficult, but it also means it’s vitally important to capture email addresses. You need to establish an ongoing relationship so that if and when the times comes to buy, every reader knows where to go.

  • Offer a course instead of a newsletter. People know that newsletters are eternal and that’s a big commitment. Courses have a clear start and end, which makes it easier for people to opt in. Once it’s over, you can transition them to an infrequent newsletter.
  • Or just send a newsletter. Courses are an easier entry point for new readers, but good old-fashioned newsletter can still work too. Just make sure you let them know the frequency of emails they can expect ahead of time.
  • Use content upgrades for contextual calls to action. Whitepapers, ebooks, case studies—these are great ways to market to readers interested in specific topics. Use them within articles on relevant topics.

Follow Up with Everyone

If you have a sales team, make sure there is a process in place to hand off email addresses. If you don’t, make sure you have good drip campaigns in place to nurture leads. Following up on every single lead is no longer a huge challenge thanks to behavioral email and marketing automation. Put these tools in place and don’t let anyone slip through the cracks.

Agree on Attribution

Measuring content marketing is hard and often a point of contention among stakeholders. Revenue growth from content is a lagging indicator of success since almost no readers will be ready to buy immediately. There isn’t a perfect way to attribute content to revenue, but here are a few things to think about:

  • Capturing email addresses makes it way easier to track a user’s path from reader to customer.
  • Running a site in a sub-folder as opposed to subdomain makes it easier to attribute signups in Google Analytics.
  • Don’t try to make a 1:1 connection between reading a single post and signing up. Shoot for something more holistic, like tracking all behavior in the 90 days leading to the signup.

Scrambling to prove the blog is working is something you want to avoid (and it happens all the time). Agree on the metrics you will measure ahead of time.

Resources:

6. Content Marketing Strategy Tools

With your content marketing strategy in place, you’re going to need tools make it all run smoothly. There are plenty of great options out there, but here are a few of our favorite content marketing tools.

SEO + Research

  • Ahrefs – An excellent tool for tracking links and doing keyword research.
  • Moz – Track your rankings for target keywords.
  • KeywordTool.io – Get tons of keyword ideas.
  • AnswerthePublic.com – Get keyword ideas in the form of questions.
  • Buzzsumo – Research successful posts with search and social metrics.
  • Clearbit – Add data to your existing email list for better segmentation.

Content Creation + Hosting

  • Quip – Our favorite tool for collaborative writing.
  • SketchDeck – Professional design resources on-demand.
  • DraftSend – Create simple presentations that you can embed in your posts.
  • WordPress – The best content management system for most SaaS blogs.
  • WPEngine – Our host of choice.
  • Wistia – The best video hosting platform out there.

Email

  • ConvertKit – A tool built specifically for bloggers to send emails and create courses.
  • Customer.io – An excellent tool for creating behavioral email campaigns.
  • CampaignMonitor – An easy-to-use email tool with beautiful templates.

Promotion + Conversion

  • Sumo – All kinds of tools for collecting email addresses on your site.
  • Drift – Simple live chat tool for having live conversations with readers.
  • Buffer – The industry standard social media sharing tool.

Workflow

  • Airtable – Create an insanely powerful content workflow.
  • CoSchedule – Build comprehensive marketing calendars.
  • Zapier – Connect all your apps and automate everything.
  • Trello – A popular and useful project management tool.
  • Teamwork – A robust and powerful project management app.

Analytics + Attribution

  • Google Analytics – Easy and free analytics. You can’t be that.
  • Amplitude – Tie your product data into your content data.
  • Segment – Centralize your event tracking for cleaner data.

Content marketing is an ongoing challenge, not a task to be checked off your list.

Wanna chat? Tweet me @itswilson8