The Complete Guide to Content Marketing for SEO

guide to content marketing for seo

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How many times have you read a blog post about why content is important?

We get it. Companies create content. And if they don’t, they should.

But at Clutch, we know this mantra, “go out and create content,” isn’t the full story. If you follow it, then you’ll probably end up with a lot of articles that never get read. They’ll just disappear into the Internet.

So, what can you do to prevent this catastrophe?

After surveying 300 expert and advanced content marketers in the US, we found that 79% create content to increase their company’s visibility either overall or in search engines.

This finding isn’t surprising. But we realized that although there are comprehensive guides to search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing respectively, none fully address the relationship between both efforts.

This article tries to do just that: explain how to do content marketing for SEO.

It takes a deep dive approach to answer questions spanning why content marketing is important, how often to publish content for SEO purposes, and how to evaluate content quality.

Because it’s longer than most of our other articles, you can easily navigate to the section that most interests you by using the downward pointing arrows in Topic List.

If you’re just interested in the data from our survey, follow the arrows after each data point in Our Findings.

Or, just keep reading!


Topic List

  • Part I: Should my company do content marketing?
  • Part II: How are content marketing and SEO connected?
  • Part III: Is regularly publishing content on my website enough for SEO?
  • Part IV: How frequently should my company publish content?
  • Part V: What types of content should I create to get links?
  • Part VI: How do I know if the quality of my content meets Google’s standards?
  • Part VII: What does 10x content really mean?
  • Part VIII: What is content comprehensiveness, and why is it important for SEO?
  • Part IV: How can I tell if my content is comprehensive?

 

Our Findings

  • 79% of content marketers create content to improve brand visibility either overall or in search engines.
  • Both B2Bs and B2Cs use content marketing mostly to increase brand awareness and improve SEO.
  • 89% of content marketers say there’s a link between the amount of content produced and the effectiveness of content marketing, bringing up an age-old question, “Content quantity or quality?”
  • Organizations need to give more thought to the types of content they create. Companies focusing on brand awareness are most likely to create infographics (19%), even though list posts, quizzes, and videos tend to get more social shares.
  • Aspirations to optimize content for multi-device access (26%) and to create more original content (24%) make up half content marketers’ plans for improving their company’s content.
  • Only 14% of content marketers identify audience personas before creating content.


Should my company do content marketing?

All companies, big and small, should do content marketing. The benefits are numerous, from building brand awareness, to improving SEO, to establishing a better relationship with customers.

Both enterprises and small businesses embrace content creation:

 

So, if you’re questioning whether content marketing is right for your business, the answer is yes. Create that content.


How are content marketing and SEO connected?

In many cases, SEO motivates content creation. Both efforts intertwine to help reach the ultimate goal: increasing brand visibility in search engines.

In fact, 30% of companies say ranking higher in search engines is one of their primary content marketing goals, surpassed only by brand awareness (49%).

If you consider brand awareness and search engine visibility similar, then overall, 79% of content marketers create content to improve their company’s visibility.

why content marketers create content

Because being visible to your audience is so important, it’s no surprise that both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) companies prioritize brand awareness and SEO when it comes to content marketing. (Unsurprisingly, B2B companies favor lead generation more than B2Cs.)

B2B and B2C content goals


Is regularly publishing content on my website enough for SEO?

Consider this: even if you publish an article every day, your site may not show up in Google.

Why? Content marketing is only effective when it’s done strategically. This means you can’t just churn out article after article.

You have to consider your audience, the searcher’s intent, content comprehensiveness and usability, all of which are significant to SEO.

Neil Patel, Co-founder of Crazy Egg, explains the connection between SEO and content marketing as an overlap of narrow, more technical marketing efforts (SEO) and broader, more holistic ones (content marketing).

“The way to apply SEO in a broader way is to channel its specific technical endeavors into content marketing. … The only way to ensure the success of content marketing is to apply SEO techniques in its implementation.”
Neil Patel

In other words, not only what you create but also the quality of your creation matters.

“As far as SEO goes, without content, there are no rankings, and there is no opportunity to appear in results," says Rand Fishkin, Founder, Moz, an SEO software company. "[Content marketing and SEO] are two practices that very much need each other.”


How frequently should my company publish content?

It’s an age-old debate: content quantity versus quality. Should you publish once a month? Once a week? Every day?

There are multiple opinions on this debate. But the best approach is to experiment until you know what works best for you.

Opinion #1: The Amount of Content Produced Is Important

A majority of content marketers surveyed (89%) say that the amount of content they produce is important to the overall success of their company’s content marketing.

importance of amount of content

Opinion #2: Content Quality Over Quantity – Always!

On the more extreme end of the quantity-quality spectrum are those who staunchly advocate that quantity means nothing without quality.

“The winner of the game is the company that produces the highest quantity of high-quality content,” says Rob Garner, Director of Content Marketing Solutions at iProspect North America, a full-service content marketing agency.

In the same vein, some content marketers worry that we’re facing a “content effluent deluge,” where readers experience content fatigue, as brands pump out more and more low quality content.

Opinion #3: Content Quantity & Quality Requirements Vary by Audience

This opinion is the middle ground. The quantity-quality debate is best addressed strategically, from the perspective of your business’ goals and audience.

“The amount of content is important, but it’s not the same for everyone. The overlap between what a team can do and what the audience wants has a sweet spot.”
Andrea Fryrear, Owner, TheAgileMarketer.net & Founder, Fox Content, a content marketing consultancy.

Building the skills you need to create content takes practice. It’s like Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule: you’re not an expert until you put in the time needed to master a skill.

Let’s apply the rule to content marketing. If your ultimate goal is to produce content that ranks organically in search engines, then you need to practice – create content frequently enough to develop necessary skills.

What content formats does your audience like? Which ones flop? You can only answer these questions by experimenting.

Effective content marketing arises from a process of trial-and-error.

“We can think of quantity of content as being a form of practice,” says Fishkin. “If we want to win a soccer game, we need to go to practice, get on the field, and take many shots at the goal. This is exactly what regular content production is. [Then] we can scale back and put more time and energy into stuff that works.”

Trial-and-error doesn’t seem like a precise approach, where’s the data in this debate?

Moz and HubSpot set out to find just that – the data necessary to settle the content quality-quantity debate once and for all.

What they found emphasizes that it depends on your audience.

Both agencies conducted studies to examine the effects of decreasing the volume of content they published on blog traffic, audience engagement, and newsletter subscriptions.

The experiment highlighted two trends:

  1. Consistency is important when you’re building your content brand. In Moz’s case, its audience accepted the half-cadence publication schedule (5-7 articles a week to 3). They already were loyal to Moz.
  2. Some audiences prefer shorter, less comprehensive content formats. In HubSpot’s case, comprehensiveness did not matter as much as publication frequency.


What types of content should I create to get links?

There’s no go-to answer for what types of content perform best.

Like most marketing efforts, “it depends” is a valid response because the best approach comes down to your company’s goals, audience, and available resources.

However, recent studies explore this topic, and the results demonstrate that overall, businesses need to give more thought to why they’re creating certain types of content.

Our survey of content marketers in the US looked into what types of content businesses produce to support three different goals: brand awareness, SEO, and lead generation.

We found that companies focusing on brand awareness are most likely to create infographics (19%) and product reviews (18%), while those pursuing SEO and lead generation prioritize research/original data (21%) and infographics (14%).

content formats that perform best based on main business goal

Why are both B2B and B2C companies investing resources in infographics?

Even though our data demonstrates that B2Cs prioritize this content format in particular, B2Bs’ infographic creation habits only are secondary to research and original data.

content formats produced by B2B and B2C companies

So, what’s up? Are infographics truly the best content type for SEO and brand awareness?

A 2015 study conducted by Moz and Buzzsumo says no.

After analyzing 1 million articles in an attempt to determine what types of content get social shares, referring links, or both, they found that content style matters.

  1. Content that’s formatted for entertainment purposes – list posts, videos, quizzes – receives significantly more shares.
  2. Research-backed content and opinion-forming journalism tend to receive both shares and links.
  3. Long-form content that’s more comprehensive, including why and list post formats, tends to receive more links.

Why does this study matter? If the majority of content marketers are creating content for brand awareness and SEO, then it’s concerning that they largely rely on infographics.

“The age of infographics is dying, and most of them are quite bad. The ones that have success do so in a slightly manipulative way. The embed gets linked back with very particular anchor texts that take advantage of search algorithms.”
Rand Fishkin, Moz

A better alternative for brand building efforts is light-hearted content that aims to entertain, such as videos, quizzes, or listicles.

If you create content for SEO, then focus on content formats that earn links, like long-form, research-back articles, opinion-forming features, or comprehensive why and list posts.


How do I know if the quality of my content meets Google’s standards?

When Google updated its algorithm to include an emphasis on content quality and authority, content creators were advised to develop high quality, unique content.

But what does “high quality, unique content” truly mean? What’s the distinction between robust and thin content?

Too many content creators consider unique content to be something that’s “useful enough [because] it answers the searcher’s query. It’s unique from other content on the Web. If you read it, you wouldn’t vomit. It’s good enough, right? Good, unique content,” says Rand Fishkin of Moz in a Whiteboard Friday video on “Why Good Unique Content Needs to Die.”

But don’t settle for good enough. It’s not a respectable standard because too many companies are capable of creating “good enough” content.

How?

“If you get to the top of Google, you get more people clicking on your link, linking to you, sharing your content and engaging with you. Those signals are all going to help keep the top positions propped-up,” explains Fishkin.

In reality, you need to create 10x content, or content that’s “10 times better than anything [you] can find in the search results today,” says Fishkin.


What does 10x content really mean?

Creating 10x content requires paying attention to the role of six different factors:

  1. User experience across devices (i.e., UI/UX).
  2. Degree to which content is high quality, trustworthy, useful, interesting, and/or remarkable
  3. Difference in scope compared to other pieces on the topic
  4. Ability to elicit an emotional response
  5. Ability to solve a problem or answer a question
  6. Unexpected and pleasing style for presenting information

Rand Fishkin, Moz

“10x content includes the visual presentation and user experience, as well as load speed and browser friendliness. It includes the quality, reliability and trustworthiness of the content, the sourcing of the material, the comprehensiveness of answers provided, and the degree to which we help visitors learn about a particular topic or accomplish a task,” says Fishkin of Moz.

To determine whether content marketers are aspiring to this 10x definition, we studied the main improvements they want to make to their company’s content.

content improvement goals

These content improvement priorities align closely with Fishkin’s requirements for 10x content, signaling an increased understanding of why 10x always surpasses just plain good or unique.

Let’s take a closer look:

  • 26% plan to optimize their content to make it accessible across multiple devices, which corresponds to focusing on content’s UI and UX.
  • 24% plan to create more original content, which corresponds to creating something that’s different and remarkable.
  • 21% plan to include more visual elements, which corresponds to presenting content in a visually appealing manner.
  • 14% plan to appeal to emotion, which corresponds to fostering some sort of emotion or reaction.
  • 14% plan to include better calls to action, which corresponds to creating content with the searcher’s intent in mind.


What is content comprehensiveness, and why is it important for SEO?

Comprehensive content goes above and beyond. It anticipates why someone searched for a word or phrase in the first place – probes the deeper context of the searcher’s intent.

Let’s say you search, “How to select an SEO company?”

how to select an seo company search term

This query signals that you’re seeking information to guide you in the process of finding an SEO firm.

To comprehensively respond to this query, your content should go beyond identifying which characteristics to look for in SEO services.

It may explore…

SEO company evaluation tool

Paying attention to the reasoning behind a searcher’s query is important for SEO, especially as Google puts more emphasis on comprehensiveness.

“There seems to be this extra weight that Google is putting … on what I’m going to call content comprehensiveness, the degree to which a piece of content answers all of a searcher’s potential questions,” says Fishkin in a Whiteboard Friday video on comprehensive content.

If a reader lands on your article but bounces off within seconds, it signals that your content does not answer their question.

So what’s the formula for comprehensive content?

Audience Intent + Context + So What Factor = Comprehensive Content


How can I tell if my content is comprehensive?

Before creating content, ask yourself a few questions to make sure your final product meets the criteria for comprehensiveness.

Question #1: Who is this for? [Audience Intent]

Start by identifying audience personas.

What type of reader would engage with your content fully? What questions would your audience have about a particular topic?

Reflecting on these questions will help you hone in on your reader’s intent. Surprisingly, only 14% of content marketers identify audience personas before creating content.

most important parts of a content strategy

Question #2: Why should the reader care? [Context]

Identify the main argument that you want to make.

A clear argument ensures that you’re directly addressing a reader’s question up front. They won’t have to dig through a lot of words before finding an answer.

For example, if you write an article that discusses HubSpot’s dominance in the digital marketing software space, that’s great. But without including an argument that explains why HubSpot stands out, the article is futile.

The why factor is crucial because it frames the direction of your content, placing it in a unique context that draws a reader into your story.

Question #3: What makes this stand out? [So What Factor]

Think back to the books, articles, or videos that you remember from last week, your first job, a class in college, or perhaps even your childhood.

What made this content so memorable? It probably elicited an emotional response or was useful.

Content that fails to include a “so what” factor risks disappearing. It’s published; it’s out there, but ultimately it melds into other “topic X 101 overviews.”

This is why so many blogs in the marketing space sound almost exactly the same. It’s important to focus on what gets shared, but it’s more important to uncover the deep emotional hopes, fears, and dreams of your audience, and focus on those elements.
Raghav Haran, Content Writer and Marketer, Single Grain.

If you’re struggling to determine whether your content includes this crucial “so what” component, evaluate your piece based on four factors outlined by Elisa Gabbert, Content Development Manager at WordStream Inc.

  1. Is the outcome and/or information surprising?
  2. Will it affect people’s lives in a significant way?
  3. Does it settle a controversy or answer a challenging question?
  4. Is it worth reading twice?

Our Takeaways

Congratulations! You made it to the end of our comprehensive guide on content marketing for SEO.

So you don’t have to go back and take notes, we did for you.

Here’s a compilation of our key takeaways and recommendations.

  1. Do content marketing, but be strategic about it.
  2. Content marketing and SEO go hand-in-hand. Both efforts increase your brand’s online visibility, thus attracting more customers and raising brand awareness.
  3. Publishing an article every day won’t necessarily help your SEO. Before creating content, you should plan for your audience, the searcher’s intent, comprehensiveness, and usability.
  4. How often you produce content depends on your audience’s preferences. If your brand has a cult of loyal followers, decreasing your publication cadence may not have any short-term effects. If your audience prefers frequently published, short, easy-to-digest articles, you may have to publish more.
  5. Measure content performance from the perspective of your business goals. If you want to get coverage and links, try creating long-form content that’s comprehensive, like why and list posts, research-backed articles, or opinion-forming journalism. If you want to get social shares, try more entertaining content formats, like list posts, videos, or quizzes.
  6. Google is putting more emphasis on content comprehensiveness. To evaluate your content for this characteristic, remember our formula: Intent + Context + So What Factor = Comprehensive Content

Questions, comments, or feedback? Email Sarah Patrick at [email protected]


About the Survey

Data comes from Clutch’s Content Marketing Survey 2016. The study included 300 respondents who are involved in content marketing at work and use some type of content marketing software. 84% identify as either expert or advanced content marketers. All respondents hold an associate level position or higher, with 58% being directors or higher. They work at enterprise companies in the US with more than 100 employees, with 72% representing companies with more than 500 employees. 34% work for business-to-business (B2B) and 66% work for business-to-consumer (B2C) companies.


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