It is well known that content plays a big role when it comes to growing a website through search engine optimization, but one of the greatest uphill battles we often face in SEO is building content from the ground up. Writing copy can be time-consuming and tedious and taking on this task can seem daunting to both the internal team and the client. In addition, as search engines evolve, so does their natural language processing, so they are increasingly able to cut through the noise.
I’ve found that the best way to create new content is to use a clear, step-by-step plan that focuses on targeted strategies. Using topics, keywords, and competitors to develop a thoughtfully curated plan will make all the difference for your team. Below I have detailed the steps I use when it comes to developing an outline for SEO-optimized content in a systematic way.
1. Keyword Research
Start with a high-level look at potential keywords, taking into account two different subsets of terms: those we are ranking for and those we want to rank for. First, check on valuable keywords the site is currently ranking for in lower positions. Since the site already has some traction for these words, they are attainable and could possibly rank higher with a different page. Ideally, a targeted piece of content would allow the site to see greater success for these queries.
Next, look into content gaps between your site and your competitors to gain a better understanding of the overall industry landscape. Ahrefs has a feature that pulls all the keywords that your competitors are ranking for that you are not. However, if access to Ahrefs is unavailable, it is also easy to take a manual look through the other sites. Doing this allows you to identify relevant words and phrases that your site may not currently touch on but could in the future.
It is also important to check the existing SERPs for the terms you are interested in to make sure that the intent is aligned for your pages. You don’t want to present a term to a client that seems related at face value but has search results appearing for something entirely different. This type of research can be completed with a variety of tools, or a simple incognito search of the query.
2. Topic Ideation
Once you’ve gathered a list of terms that look to be promising based on relevance and search value, present it to the client and ask them to identify any terms that they do not want to pursue and any that should be a priority. This is an important step because although you should be familiar with the topics their site covers, they will likely have a better understanding of the subjects and vocabulary that are most pertinent in their field. This is especially true if the client works in a niche or highly technical industry where the language used is not commonly known.
Once the list has been condensed down, try to group the keywords together to create a handful of topics for the client to choose from. Of course, you don’t want to use a broad range of terms but it is a good idea to incorporate a thoughtful variety. The grouping of terms is entirely up to you but it’s always a good idea to identify a primary keyword and then add secondary words based on that term. When the topics and their correlating keywords are ready to go, the client can choose which groups to move forward with.
3. Competitor Research
Now that you have your topics and keywords locked down, it’s time to dig into competitor pages. Doing this allows you to mimic the strategies they are successfully using, and trying to write keyword-targeted content without going through this process is sort of like shooting in the dark. You can get these insights through the Keyword Explorer tool on Ahrefs but you can also accomplish it by doing an incognito search.
No matter which method is used, open all of the links that appear on page one of the search results and take a look through them. It can be helpful to take note of the topics covered by each site and create a list that encompasses those. For instance, if you look at a SERP for “lead generation”, perhaps some pages cover lead gen strategies, tools, and case studies while others look at why it’s important, how-to guides, and examples.
You can take all of these into consideration to create a page that is more in-depth and well rounded than the rest. Typically, I like to think of these subtopics as headers so I can form my page around them. In addition to the content itself, evaluate how the pages are structured and formatted to look for commonalities. A few key things to look out for include pages that use a table, a numbered list, or some other formatted feature. Finally, take into account page length and keep the average word count in mind as you flesh out your copy.
4. Outline Development
When it comes to creating an actual document to be used for drafting and editing, I prefer to use a Google doc due to its collaborative nature. In terms of building the document out, the headers will be a starting point as mentioned above in step three.
First, determine what the H1 and the following headers will look like as well. While working through this, try to keep the Answer Box and People Also Ask questions top of mind since these also make great headers. Generally speaking, though, be sure to follow best practices so that the content has a logical and natural flow for readers.
Below each of the headers, provide some direction as to what that block of text should include. For example, if you want to capture a PPA make a note to start the sentence “Blank is…” immediately after a header that contains a question. Beyond this, provide a high-level view of what the text should contain and include a list of things competitors touch on for easy reference.
The goal here is to guide your copywriter in writing optimized content that allows their expertise to shine through. I also like to incorporate E-A-T features as a reminder to the team that they will need to be included when the piece is published. I try to mimic how the page would appear on the site by noting things like the published date, author, author bio, and sources as appropriate.
Of course, do a preliminary check with your client to be sure that all the aspects of the outline are appropriate and adjust them as needed.
Now that you’ve built a blueprint for the page, it is time to hand things over to your writer. You should send your writer a list of target keywords with their monthly search volumes and keyword difficulties, a list of competitor pages, and then the outline itself.
Providing any other insights or context you uncovered in your research will also be helpful here. The more information you can share off the bat, the more likely it is that the outcome of the draft will align with your vision. In addition, it makes the lives of copywriters a bit easier and the task itself much less intimidating. If the client is doing the copywriting themselves, however, tools like Grammarly and Hemingway can be great additional resources to share with them.
Once the copywriter has populated the content outline, you can enter into the phase of collaborative editing. Here, review the copy for search engine optimization opportunities and ensure that there is a balanced keyword to content ratio.
It is also important to take the client’s feedback into consideration as they know their offerings and consumers better than anyone else. Try to create a fair balance between the client’s wishes and the potential for success. While SEO priorities are important, the client likely knows best when it comes to their brand and audience.
Once the team and client finalize the content, it’s time to publish. A few simple SEO best practices to be mindful of include making sure the metadata is optimized, the images are appropriately sized and tagged, headers are in order, and that any schema is properly implemented. Once the page has been created, be sure to do a quality assurance check before pushing it live on the site. Finally, I will often go ahead and submit the URL to be indexed in Google Search Console in the hopes of having it crawled and ranking faster.
8. SEO After Publication
With these seven steps completed, you should now have an SEO-optimized piece of content that can help improve your site’s overall performance. As with everything else in SEO, it may take a period of time for the page to begin gaining traction, but if you targeted keywords correctly, you should see encouraging growth. If your page is not performing as expected, take a second look at your content and targeted terms to determine if any adjustments can be made.
Sometimes, new content falls flat due to outside factors and it can be disappointing for both the internal and client team. An example of how this could happen is that maybe you targeted terms that became more competitive because the landscape shifted. This would make it harder for a fresh page to gain rankings amongst established competitors.
With that said, reoptimizations are a valuable eighth step and can lead to substantial results in situations like this. Reoptimizations can include tweaking keyword usage from short tail to long tail or adding a few more content sections. In this case, competitor research is once again the best signifier of which direction you should take moving forward.
If you have a content building process that works well for you, we’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave a comment below letting us know which strategies you use. Finally, if you are looking for an SEO and copywriting team to build out your website, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!