About a month ago, I was invited to speak at the Melbourne SEO Meetup. At the request of the event organisers, I presented about the importance of content in SEO and provided some actionable tips on how to plan and execute content for websites. The presentation went well, there were lots of questions from the attendees and I had loads of chats and discussions about the topic. Below is the slide deck that I presented:
I thought it might be useful to recap and expand on the slide deck in the form of blog post. So, here it goes…
Is Content Really King?
I know I am preaching to the converted here but for those people who are just getting started in SEO, it is important to understand why content plays a significant role in performing well in organic search. This video by Search Engine Land explains it well. Search engines such as Google and Bing act as librarians of the internet – crawling, indexing and organising billions of webpages. In order for search engines to serve you the most relevant results, they have to scan text content on a webpage in order for them to understand what the webpage is about.
There has been loads of test, research and studies in SEO that validates the important of text content. At the end of 2016, the awesome Brian Dean of Backlinko conducted a study of 1 million Google search results to understand what factors correlate with first page rankings. In his study, he found that pages with longer content performed better and ranked higher on the first page of Google. See this chart below:
What he found was that the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words.
Now that you know the importance of content and how it impacts and affects SEO, let’s dive in to the different types of content and how you can plan and execute content for your website. In my presentation, I used an ecommerce example but you can easily use the same concepts and frameworks on your own website.
The Different Types of Content
Depending on who you speak to and the different articles about content marketing that you read, they define the different types of content differently. Below is how I define the different types content when I am working on a website:
When I am planning and auditing a website for content, I start from the bottom of content pyramid. “Hygiene” content, defined as content that you will require (as a bare minimum) when users are looking for questions related to the your niche or industry. Basic content on the website that explains what you do and the services that you provide. Examples of hygiene content are product descriptions, case studies, FAQs, how to’s and regular blog posts. Production frequency on this type of content is high and generally much easier to execute and implement.
In the middle of the pyramid is “hub” content, defined as a series of content specifically aimed at a specific topic. These type of content is generally a little more evergreen compared to hygiene content, requires a little more planning and usually aimed at guiding users through the purchase journey on the website. An obvious example of hub content are buyer’s guides on ecommerce websites. REI.com in my opinion has one of the best content hubs, here’s one of their content hub about camping. Content hubs are there to educate, provide advice and help users make an informed decision. Notice how each article within the content hub is not very “salesy”.
At the top of the pyramid, you have “hero” content, defined as content that attracts huge number of traffic that you invest time and money to acquire. These are generally campaign based, requires a lot more planning and generally viral and evergreen in nature with aim of increasing reach and brand awareness. Hero content generally coincides with the launch of something huge, a launch of a new book, a new line of product or even new research findings. Backlinko’s study of 1 million google search results mentioned above, is an example of “hero” content. The latest SEMrush’s rankings factors study is another example of a hero piece content. Content that serves a mass audience, aligns with your brand and generates a big buzz upon launch. This type of content tend to have a low production frequency due the amount of resources and budget required to execute one.
In this post, I am only going to cover how to plan and implement hygiene and hub content for a standard ecommerce wesite.
Start with Keyword Research
Like everything in SEO, everything starts with keyword research to understand what popular keywords users are using to find and research the products and services that you provide. The keyword research process has been covered by lots of different experts and blogs, I won’t be running through how to conduct keyword research. If you want a step-by-step guide on keyword research check out this and this, should help you get started.
Keyword research tools are aplenty, pick the tool of your choice. Start with your key head term, gather and compile related keyword ideas – rinse and repeat for other head terms until you have a spreadsheet/database of related keywords. In my presentation, I featured SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool which is fairly new and I’ve been loving the data it provides and the UX of the tool. Below is an example for the head term “jeans”:
Another cool feature that they have is the ability to view “questions” related to the seed keyword. Here’s an example of frequently asked questions about “jeans”:
Don’t forget and ignore long-tail keywords! Although they have lower search volumes, they will form valuable content ideas for your website. Once you have compiled a list of relevant keywords, you should end up with thousands of keyword ideas (depending on the size of your site). The next step is to group keywords in to similar categories or topics, this is going to be extremely useful when you are planning out your content. Here’s an illustration what it would look like:
Now that you have your keyword research all done, we can then start applying this to our content. Before I go in to the nitty-gritty of planning for the execution of hygiene content , let’s do a quick recap on why this type of content is non-negotiable on an ecommerce website:
- Basic content required to rank a webpage
- Without text content, search engines will not have the necessary signals to determine relevancy
- If your competitors have and you don’t, you will be losing out
- Your opportunity to “elevator pitch” your products and services
- Convince users why they should buy from you
- Every page’s content should be unique
So, what do you do with the keyword research? Because it is now grouped in to categories/topics, it should roughly match the structure and information architecture of your website. What you want to do next is to map each keyword to the pages on your website. Using the same example of my make believe fashion ecommerce website, here’s what the keyword mapping process looks like:
The process is pretty straightforward, map your shortlisted keywords to a relevant page on the website. There are no special tools required for this, good ol Excel will do the trick. Remember, it is OK to map more than one keyword to a page if they are semantically similar. For example “ripped jeans” and “distressed jeans” shown above. This is a great process to go through as it also helps you identify any gaps you need to plug. If you have shortlisted a relevant keyword with decent search volumes but have no page to map it to, that is an opportunity to create a new page to plug that gap.
Once you have completed the keyword mapping process, you should start with on-site optimisation – title tags, meta descriptions, headings, etc. I am not going to run through the process of doing this, there are heaps of resources around on-site optimisation that you should be able to find on the internet. Most importantly, you should now start planning for the content on these pages. In the table above, you would have noticed the “word count” column. Because we are dealing with an ecommerce website, the length and depth of content for product category pages can be a little restrictive. BUT how do you determine how much content you need?
The answer…by doing some quick competitor analysis. See who is ranking well, click-through and have a look at their content. Take notice of their text content length, writing style, USPs and call to actions. Rinse and repeat for a few other keywords to get an idea of an average word count.
Once you have all the data points in place, it makes the production of content much easier. If you are using a freelancer or outsourcing your content production, it helps with the briefing process.
On a side note, one of the most common comment and reservation I get from the clients I have worked with is “WOW, that is a lot of content to produce”. If you are a big ecommerce website with thousands of product SKU’s and hundreds of different product categories, the process can become very daunting. The key here is prioritisation and implementing it in batches. Which is why the keyword mapping table/spreadsheet is so important. You can easily add in some URL level analytics data, combined with the keyword search volumes should give you an idea on which pages to produce content for first.
Let’s fast forward now and assume that your website is all optimised, things are relatively stable, you start generating steady traffic and pages have started to rank. It’s time to take it up a notch and continue to drive more traffic and topical relevance to the website. This is where “hub” content come in to play.
Once your hygiene content is all set and you get your regular blog editorial calendar going and running smoothly, the next step in order to drive more organic traffic and topical authority to the website is via hub content. The objective is to add more depth of content to the website.
As defined earlier, hub content tend to be a series of content specifically aimed at a specific topic. Remember those mid-to-long tail keywords as well as questions that you would have identified during the keyword research process? Those would be perfect for generating hub content ideas because they would fit perfectly in the middle-of-funnel of a typical website sales funnel. Your hygiene content would have addressed the needs of a user higher up the funnel in the awareness phase, whereas hub content would be more tailored towards the interest and desire phase.
When you are building out and planning out your hub content, data from the initial keyword research may not be sufficient in generating content ideas. A little bit more research will be required which is where the following tool would come in handy for researching content ideas related to a topic.
Answerthepublic.com is a fantastic website that scrapes Google suggests data and visualises the data in an awesome way (see below). The data is also grouped in to useful buckets such as questions, prepositions, comparisons and alphabetically. Best of all, all the data is exportable in to CSV for Excel manipulation. Here’s an example of questions related to “jeans”:
Look at that, content ideas galore! Digest and analyse the data and use it to start formulating content ideas for the hub that you are trying to build out. When I do this for clients, I use these set of rules to ensure that I do not go off-track:
- Content ideas should relevant
- It should convince and help users decide (remember middle-of-funnel)
- Inspire users to “want” to buy your products
- Has to be USEFUL
The last point is extremely important, your content has to be useful! Never blindly produce content purely for SEO purposes, it has to satisfy a user’s needs. Jay Bear coined the term “Youtility” and one of my favourite quotes from him is this:
“Youtility is marketing upside down. Instead of marketing that’s needed by companies, Youtility is marketing that’s wanted by customers. It’s massively useful FREE information, that creates long term trust and kinship between a company and its customers.”
If you helped someone solve an issue or answered a question or a need through content, you have essentially won their trust and the likelihood of them purchasing from you is much higher. That is what hub content is meant to do.
Moving on….just like how we have mapped out and planned for hygiene content using the keyword mapping process in excel, do something similar with the data and content ideas that you have. Again, setting up a simple Excel sheet would suffice – it would look something like this:
This would also be the start of a content brief for your content writers. Rinse and repeat this process for other topics and categories related to your business and website. Before you know it, you have produced a collection of highly topical content pieces. This is what the final outcome would look like, you would created what I call a Content Stack:
This seems like a lot of work right? It is pretty labor intensive to produce and execute. The most important question that you are probably asking by now is how is this going to help with SEO. It is going to help in so many ways. Let me illustrate it out and annotate it for you:
So, here’s a typical structure of a website. Each of those dots represent pages on your website. You have the homepage, product categories, sub-categories, etc. Using the same “jeans” example that I have using throughout this article, that entire content stack are the green dots. What has essentially happened is that you have a created a larger, more in-depth SILO about a specific “topic”. Most importantly, if the content stack was executed well (useful and there’s a demand for it) you have just created an arsenal of linkable assets that you can use for link building. Opening up the ability for you to flow link juice both ways, upwards and downwards.
If you have ever executed link building campaigns for ecommerce websites before, you would appreciate the difficulty of acquiring links directly to your product category pages. By having these content pieces acting as linkable assets, we can use them to execute link building tactics such as resource link building or broken link building. Find websites and blogs that have written or featured similar types of content, outreach to them and ask to be included. This is just one tactic that you can use, if you want to learn more about leveraging linkable assets to acquire links check out Jason Acidre’s or Jon Cooper’s blog.
Examples & Case Studies
All the above strategies and tactics are tried and true. I have executed this on clients’ websites and have seen positive results and growth. Here are some examples.
Ecommerce Hygiene Content:
- When we started working this ecommerce client in May 2017, they did not have any category content implemented on any of their product category pages
- By implementing simple short snippet of introductory content (100 – 150 words) on all of their product category pages, we improved the relevancy of the pages
- Just by doing this we were able to increase their rankings and grow their organic search traffic
Ecommerce Content Hub:
- A mature ecommerce client that experienced a plateau in organic traffic and needed to drive more traffic via organic search
- They have ticked all the right boxes from a hygiene content perspective and ranking well for their top-of-funnel keywords
- After doing our research and due diligence, we determined that building a repository of hub content was the next logical step
- We helped them plan and execute a series of buying guides related to the products they were selling
- As you can see from the above, traffic and visibility has been steadily growing for the buying guides
- Zero link building, purely leveraging good siloing and internal linking
There are a few more examples towards the end of the slide deck if you wish to explore more.
I actually just recalled that I wrote a piece back in 2013, Great Content F#$%ing Works…Seriously which is another case study of the implementation of hygiene content on an ecommerce store – that is worth a read too.
Content is an Important Ingredient for SEO Success
That is it, that is all I have – thanks for reading, hopefully you have found this post useful. I hope that you have gained a better understanding of the role text content plays in SEO and the importance of it. Most importantly, I hope that I have provided you with a framework and workflow that you can use to implement content on your own business and website. Any questions, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or hit me up on my socials – Facebook or Twitter.