UG content SEO

The ultimate guide to content SEO

The ultimate guide to content SEO

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What is Content SEO?

Content SEO includes everything to do with the writing and structuring of content on your website. There are three major elements you need to consider to produce content that will make your website rank well: keyword strategy, site structure and copywriting.

Content SEO is important because search engines, such as Google, read your website, so the words you use on your site determine whether or not your site will rank in their results pages. Of course, your website should be well-designed, with a great user interface, but all the technical stuff that makes your site rank in Google should also be covered. Without good quality content, your site does not stand a chance in the search engines.

Keyword research

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is basically the steps you take to create an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for. Every content SEO strategy should begin with keyword research, because you have to know what your audience is searching for if you want to generate traffic. Keyword research helps you to discover the terms you should be aiming to rank for.

Keyword research has three steps:

  • First, you write down the mission of your business;
  • Next, you make a list of all the keywords you want to be found for;
  • Finally, you create landing pages for all these keywords.

This section takse you through these three steps in much more detail.

If you do your keyword research right, you should have a clear overview of the terms people use and the terms for which you want the pages on your site to be found. This overview will serve as a guide for writing content on your website.

Read more: ‘Keyword research: the ultimate guide’ »

Why is keyword research so important for content SEO?

Proper keyword research will make clear which search terms your audience uses. This is crucial. At Yoast, we regularly encounter clients who use particular words when talking about their products, while their customers use entirely different words. Optimizing content for words that people do not use doesn’t make any sense. Doing proper keyword research makes sure that you are using the same words as your target audience and therefore makes the whole effort of optimizing your website worthwhile.

Some terms we use in keyword research

Keywords and keyphrases

We tend to use the word ‘keyword’ all the time, but we don’t necessarily mean it has to be just one word. ‘WordPress SEO’ is a keyword, as is ‘Google Analytics plugin.’ So you can have keywords containing multiple words!

Long tail keywords

The longer (and more specific) a search term is, the easier it will be to rank for that term. Keywords that are more specific (and usually longer) are usually referred to as long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific and focus more on a niche.

How many keywords?

It is very hard to give an exact number of keywords you should focus on. And then again, it’s very simple: You just need to have a lot – as as many as you can come up with. More than 1,000 keywords is probably too many though!

Even if you’re a reasonably small business, you’ll probably end up with a couple of hundred keywords. But you don’t have to create pages for all of these immediately. The great thing about having a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress is that you can gradually add content. Think about what keywords you would like to rank for right away, and which ones aren’t immediately important. Determine what your priorities are and plan the creation of your content.

Classifying your keywords is essential. Some keywords are very common and competitive (head), while others are long-tail. Decide which are your most critical, high-level keywords – the ones that generate sufficient traffic for your website and best fit your business. You will probably only have a few of these general keywords for your business, the rest of them will be more down the tail. In the next section, we will give more in-depth information on long tail keywords (and the importance of these keywords).

Content focusing on the most common keywords should be on the top level pages on your website (homepage and the pages one level beneath your homepage), whereas content focusing on long tail keywords should be more on the tail end of your site.

Tools you can use

There are multiple free tools available to help you with your keyword research. Check out our article about keyword research tools if you want to find out more about practical tools.

Adapting your keyword strategy

Your keyword strategy isn’t static. It should change and evolve alongside your company and your website. It should evolve and grow with you. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.

You should be on top of the changes in your company and adapt your strategy simultaneously. If your online shop starts selling new products, extend your list with more keywords. If you’re aiming for new markets, it’s vital that your keywords are aimed at these new markets as well.

There are several keyword strategies to adopt. One of them is to start off trying to rank for long tail keywords and then aim at more general keywords afterwards, but you could also start by focusing on general ones then aim for more long tail keywords after. You can zoom in and pursue more niche activities, broaden your approach, adding more content on different things, or you can do both simultaneously.

Learn how to structure your site well with our Site structure training! »

Site structure training Info

Site structure

The second important aspect of Content SEO is the structure of your site. First I will explain why site structure is critical, then I’ll show you what an ideal site structure looks like. I will also give tips on how to (quickly) improve your site structure without completely disrupting the core of your website.

Why is site structure important for content SEO?

There are two main reasons why site structure is an important ranking factor:

1 Good structure helps Google to ‘understand’ your site

The way your site is structured gives Google significant clues about where to find the most important content. Your site’s structure determines whether a search engine understands what your site is about, and how easily it will find and index content relevant to your site’s purpose and intent. A good site structure will, therefore, lead to a higher ranking in Google.

By creating such a structure, you can use existing content that has attracted links from others to help other pages rank as well. Your site’s structure will help spread some of that link juice to the other pages on your site. On a commercial site, that means that you can use quality content you’ve written to boost the search engine rankings of your sales pages too.

2 Good structure makes sure you are not competing with your own content

On your website, you will probably have multiple articles about similar topics. At Yoast, for example, we write about SEO. If we wrote eight articles about SEO, Google wouldn’t know which of these is most important. If we didn’t clarify this with our site structure, we’d be competing with our own articles for Google’s top spot. So, solving problems like this using a sound internal linking structure will result in higher rankings overall.

The ideal structure of a site

Ideally, you should structure your site like a pyramid. On top of the pyramid is your homepage and on the homepage are links to some other pages (such as category pages). These pages, in turn, link to even more pages.

In an effective content SEO strategy, your keyword strategy and the way you structure your site work together. In a proper keyword strategy, you’ll have thought about common, competitive keywords as well as more long tail niche search terms. You should make a similar dichotomy in your site structure. Pages focusing on more common search terms should appear high in your pyramid, while pages optimized for more long tail keywords should appear in a lower part of your site structure. These long tail pages at the bottom of the pyramid must link correctly to the pages higher in the pyramid.

Keep reading: ‘The ultimate guide to site structure’ »

Practical tips on improving your site structure

If you’re serious about content SEO, you’ll most likely already have a live website. So it may be a bit late to set up your site’s structure in an ideal pyramid-like way. Don’t despair – there are still plenty of things you can do to improve your site’s structure and your content SEO.

Decide upon Cornerstone content

You should focus your efforts on cornerstone articles. These are the articles you’re most proud of, that fit the mission of your website best. This ultimate guide is, in fact, one of our cornerstones. You want to rank for these articles the most. If you haven’t decided which of your articles are the most important yet, start thinking about that now. Make these articles the best ones on your site. Give them extra TLC and update them regularly.

Read on: ‘What is cornerstone content’ »

Link from tail to head

Once you’ve decided upon your precious cornerstones, make sure you link from all your ‘tail’ articles to those cornerstones. That way, Google will know which articles to rank highest. Read all about this in our article about incorporating cornerstones into your site structure.

Use tags (but not too many)

Your site will also benefit from adding tags. Tags and taxonomies will give your site more structure – or at least, Google will understand it better. They group your articles about similar topics. Don’t overdo it, though. Some people have more tags than articles. Using too many tags will lead to a confusing, poorly-structured website.

Avoid duplicate content

The same content can turn up at multiple places on your site. As a reader, you don’t mind: you still get the content you came for. But a search engine has to choose something to show in the search results, as it doesn’t want to show the same content twice.

Moreover, when other websites link to your product, chances are some of them link to the first URL, while others link to the second URL. But if these duplicates all link to the same URL, your chance of ranking top 10 for the relevant keyword would be much higher. Canonicalization is the solution to duplicate content. You can configure the canonical URL in the advanced tab of Yoast SEO.

Remove old content

If the content on a page is outdated, remove it! However, you may have had some valuable links to that page. You want to make sure you still benefit from these links, even though the page doesn’t exist any longer, so you should redirect the URL.

Redirecting pages is not difficult if you have our Yoast SEO Premium plugin, which can help you to take care of redirects. Preferably, you redirect the old URL (301) to the page or product that replaced the old page or product, or a related page if there is no replacement. That could be the category page of the specific product, or, as a very last resort, your homepage. This way the (outdated) page won’t interfere with your site structure anymore.

Deal with orphaned content

The term ‘orphaned content’ refers to articles that don’t have any links from your other articles or posts. Because of that, these articles are hard to find, both by Google and by users of your site. Google will consider this type of content less important. So, if an article is important to you, make that clear to Google (and your visitors) by linking to that particular article from other (related) content. Read more about solving the problem of orphaned articles in our article about orphaned content.

Check out our article on how to improve your site structure in 4 simple steps for more tips and practical input.

Learn how to write engaging copy and how to organize it well on your site: Combine our SEO copywriting and Site structure training. »

Content SEO training bundle Info


The third and final aspect of a successful content SEO strategy is copywriting. You should write articles that are attractive to read and that make your audience want to stay on your website. At the same time, you want to make your content attractive for Google. But some people go too far and optimize their content so overtly that they become terrible to read. At Yoast, we suggest optimizing your text for search without adversely affecting the originality of your idea or the readability of your text.

Read more: ‘The ultimate guide to SEO copywriting’ »

Copywriting starts with an original idea

The first requirement for high-quality copywriting is to write original content. Your blog post or your article should be ‘fresh,’ new and original. It has to be different from all the other blog posts and articles that are already on the internet. It should be content that people will want to read.

If you did your keyword research well, you ended up with a long list of terms you want to be found for. This list can be a guide for you to choose from. A keyword is not yet a topic, though. You should make sure to come up with an original idea for your blog post – an idea in which the desired focus keyword has a prominent place.

Original content doesn’t necessarily mean brand new content. Of course, if your story is completely new, that’ll automatically mean it’s original. However, giving your (professional) opinion on a particular topic also counts as original content. Your own personal angle to a story will make your content unique and original.

Think about your audience

If you want to write original content, you should think about your audience and who they are. Also ask yourself:

  • What do you want to tell your audience?
  • What will be the main message of your article?
  • What is the purpose of your article?
  • What do you want your audience to do after they’ve read your article? (Do you want them to engage, to buy your stuff, to read more posts?)

Thinking about these questions will help you to come up with an original idea for your post or article.

Copywriting requires readable content

A key requirement for writing high-quality content is to write content that’s easily readable. Readability is important both for your audience and for Google. After all, not only do people read your articles, but Google does too.

If your text is well structured and clearly written, readers will understand your message but perhaps more importantly, it will also help Google understand better too. If your main message is clearer to Google, your post is far more likely to rank well in the search engines.

Readability is about many factors, including text structure, sentence length and writing clear paragraphs. Read all about the importance of readability in this post. For more tips on readability, you can read our post on how to make an article more readable.

Content should be optimized for search engines

The final requirement for writing high-quality content is to make sure the content is optimized for search engines. You want your content to be easily found. Findability has to do with increasing the likelihood Google will pick up your content for the result pages. It’s important that you take this final step after you’ve written an original and readable post.

Yoast SEO helps you tweak your text just a little bit more. If you’ve written your article, focused on that original idea, and optimized the readability of your post, you should take a look at the SEO analysis in Yoast SEO.

Red and orange bullets indicate which aspects of your findability need a little bit more attention. The plugin could suggest using your focus keyword a little bit more often. Maybe you should put it in the first paragraph or one of the headings. Yoast SEO will help you to optimize your snippet preview as well. These tweaks can vastly improve your chances to be picked up by the search engines. Read more about optimizing your post in our article on how to use the content and SEO analysis.

Conclusion on Content SEO

Content SEO is such a huge part of SEO. It encompasses all the aspects of writing and structuring content on your website. Content SEO is essential. Google reads and scans your website text. Google’s algorithm decides the ranking of your site largely based on the content you publish. And we all know content is king. So, you need to write awesome content, focus on the right keywords and structure your website in such a way Google understands it. It’s a lot of work, but it will pay off in the long run.

Keep reading: ‘Blogging: the ultimate guide’ »

29 Responses to The ultimate guide to content SEO

  1. Ranjeet Kumar
    By Ranjeet Kumar on 28 November, 2017

    After using Yoast plugin for my wordpress I am able to know lots of key strategy to optimize my content. I always use to come this site to learn some new things. Thanks very much for valuable posts.

  2. Anil Agarwal
    By Anil Agarwal on 27 November, 2017

    Content marketing is the KEY.

    SEO without content is a waste of time and money. Although proper content marketing takes time and efforts, but it’s worth every inch of your hard work.

    Make sure to focus on spying on your competitors to see how they are adopting new marketing channels to promote their content.

    Also focus on your target audience to give the best content to their needs.

    Great insights!

  3. Robert
    By Robert on 23 November, 2017

    Great article! I am using Yoast Seo Very Long Time On my 3 Website and It’s Experience is Very Good

  4. Ryan
    By Ryan on 22 November, 2017

    While I love Yoast and never doubt your insight and knowledge, I still feel that there is something to be said about the arena your business is in and the content that is produced around it. I have been on and off content creation for years, and while I have seen the SEO benefits, I have not seen the consumer benefits. I believe this is due to the fact that my industry (real estate) is not sexy enough to engage consumers with content that is interesting enough to them.

    People just dont want to read about “how to sell a house” or “how to buy a house”. They end up just calling an agent they know and buying or selling a house, at which point, real estate is our of their minds for 10+ years. I find it really difficult to have a consistent content strategy when my content is never read (Google Analytics tells me) I just wish I knew the solution to this problem. When it comes to SEO and even Marketing, a website like this targets business owners and entrepreneurs who want to increase traffic and sales on a daily basis, all year round. Thus, content consumption and implementing tactics never really stops for us. But in my business, my target market is a one and done consumer who does not stick around and gets their information for corporate/national sites all publishing the same mundane info.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 22 November, 2017

      Hi Ryan. Thanks for your valuable insights. We know what you mean, but the answer is too complex to give in a comment on this post. We would like to address your points in a new blog post. Is it ok if we could use your business as a case study, so we can give targetted advice? I’ll send you an email to discuss this.

  5. Iren
    By Iren on 21 November, 2017

    Great, helpful article, congratulation. I try to follow it in the future. Many thanks

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 22 November, 2017

      Thanks, Iren, and good luck!

  6. Anthony Church
    By Anthony Church on 21 November, 2017

    Great article! These principles can be applied to the topic pillars as the cornerstones for keywords.

    Interesting to learn that search volume is not significant for organic search. It’s so easy to get sucked into the idea of more visitors without thinking if they’re the right ones.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 22 November, 2017

      Yep, you are right about that, Anthony. More doesn’t equal better!

  7. John Thompson
    By John Thompson on 21 November, 2017

    I have a quick question, if you don’t mind. Do search engine robots / Google hate you stacking dual keywords in a title. Example: (KW) Red Centre Tours , (KW) Central Australia Tours. (Title) Red Centre tours, Central Australia tours | Nature Bound Australia or (KW) Over 50s travel tours, (KW) holidays for seniors. (Title) Over 50s travel tours, holidays for seniors | Nature Bound Australia

  8. Taisa | Las Aventuras de Taisa
    By Taisa | Las Aventuras de Taisa on 21 November, 2017

    Really a very good cornerstone. Congrats. I have migrated 6 months ago with my Blog to my own host and I have learn a lot of SEO thanks to your plugin and your posts, and I learned some more things with this post that are going to lead my next projects and improvements. Now search traffic grows everyday, and I can also apply what I have learn with my clients. Thank you.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 22 November, 2017

      That’s so great to hear, Taisa! Thank you.

  9. Blue Traffic
    By Blue Traffic on 21 November, 2017

    Thanks for the great article and links to others you’ve written. You mention tags. What are you currently recommending in terms of using noindex on tag URLs? If you aren’t using noindex, do you also recommend including those pages in sitemaps? We typically recommend noindex and not using them in sitemaps, but instead only having them to make navigation easier for users. Curious to hear your thoughts.

  10. Mitch Rezman
    By Mitch Rezman on 21 November, 2017

    If Google has gotten so smart – why do we still need keyword research?

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 22 November, 2017

      If you don’t do your keyword research, you wouldn’t know what to write about, would you? Keyword research gives you valuable insights into your content and the way people search for your content/product/service etc.

  11. Mitch Rezman
    By Mitch Rezman on 21 November, 2017

    Google doesn’t rank websites – Google ranks pages – Google essentially considers each page as “a site”.

    When is any content NOT SEO related?

  12. Maurice
    By Maurice on 21 November, 2017

    This sure is a cornerstone article on content SEO.
    Well done and thank you.

  13. Dustin
    By Dustin on 21 November, 2017

    Great guide Marieke! I think it’s worth noting that if you do a really good job of keyword and topical research at the beginning of the process, the content and technical side of things are a lot more effective. Focusing on long-tail keywords and topics makes it easier to “get started” attracting some traffic, then moving up to larger volume keywords and content as your site gains authority.

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 22 November, 2017

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, Dustin!

  14. Abdul
    By Abdul on 21 November, 2017

    Excellent Post, full of knowledge. worth sharing!

  15. nexvan
    By nexvan on 21 November, 2017

    Content is one of the factors to determine the ranking position and increase the traffic.

  16. Amilaa Anderson
    By Amilaa Anderson on 21 November, 2017

    well-researched article, thought and inspiration provoking! Loaded with great info. I’m in the process of taking a different approach to my coaching, and this is a perfect resource to save. Thank you for the perfection!

    • Edwin Toonen
      By Edwin Toonen on 22 November, 2017

      Thanks, Amilaa!

  17. Nikhil Nikam
    By Nikhil Nikam on 21 November, 2017

    Very valuable post. Waiting from many days. I am using yoast seo premium plugin which helping mostly

  18. Partha Giri
    By Partha Giri on 21 November, 2017

    Excellent share. Content SEO is one of the important factors to determine the ranking position and increase the traffic. I think relevant topic based content is essential. This post define all the prime elements and really helpful guide of content SEO. Thanks a lot for valuable share.

  19. Fakaza
    By Fakaza on 21 November, 2017

    Keywords optimization is the key to content seo… a very good content without a well optimized keyword strategy is like a fine house with out a money

  20. Fakaza
    By Fakaza on 21 November, 2017

    When i hear content seo, all i hear is keywords optimization.. this is because its the only language i think the serp bots listen easily listen to

  21. ajay
    By ajay on 20 November, 2017

    Really nice article, i am using yoast SEO plugin for on-page optimization and it is amazing i can se good result in my website ranking. Thank you guys and keep up the good work

    • Otlaat
      By Otlaat on 21 November, 2017

      I’m also using yoast SEO plugin for all my customers sites but in my travel site is use the premium yoast SEO plugin, It’s very helpful it’s help me to :
      1- build site structure for internal links
      2- redirect old post link to new link
      it’s save a lot of time .

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