The ultimate guide to content SEO

Content SEO is a major aspect of an SEO strategy. Without content, it is impossible to rank your site in search engines. It is, therefore, crucial to write and structure quality content! This ultimate guide covers the most important topics for content SEO.

What is Content SEO?

Content SEO encompasses all the aspects that have to do with writing and structuring of content on your website. There are three major topics you should keep in mind to produce content that will make your website rank: keyword strategy, site structure and copywriting.

Content SEO is important because search engines, like Google, scroll text. They decide whether or not your site will rank in their result pages based mainly on the words. Of course, your website should be very nicely designed, with a great user interface. And all the technical stuff that makes your site rank in Google should also be covered. But without content, your site does not stand a chance in the search engines.

Keyword research

What is keyword research?

Keyword research can be defined as the activity you undertake to come up with an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for. Every content SEO strategy should start with keyword research. You have to know what your audience is searching for if you want to generate traffic. Keyword research helps you to discover what you should be ranking for, or aiming to rank for.

In our view, keyword research has three steps:

In the next chapter, we will take 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 you want the pages on your site to be found on. This overview will function as a guide for writing content on your website.

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

Why is keyword research important for content SEO?

Proper keyword research will make clear which search terms your audience uses. This is imperative. At Yoast, we regularly encounter clients that have a specific set of words they use when referencing their products, while their users use an entirely different set of words. Optimizing content for words that people don’t use does not make any sense. Doing proper keyword research makes sure that you use the words your target audience uses 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) search terms are, the easier it will be to rank for the term. Keywords that are more specific (and often longer) are usually referred to as long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific and less some. They 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 large number, as large a number as is feasible for you. More than a 1000 keywords are probably more than you can handle.

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 make 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 that important (yet). Determine what your priorities are and plan the creation of your content.

Head or tail?

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 business and fit your business best. You should only have a few of these general keywords for your business. The rest of them are bound to be more down the tail. In the next chapter, 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 most high-level pages on your website (homepage and the pages one level beneath your homepage). Content focusing on long tail keywords should be more on the tail end of your site as well.

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 or 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 aim at more general keywords afterward. But you could also aim for more long tail keywords after focusing on general ones. You can zoom in and pursue more niche activities, or broaden your approach, adding more content on different things. And you can do both at the same time.

Site Structure

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

Why is site structure important for content SEO?

In our opinion, there are two main reasons why site structure is an important ranking factor:

1 A decent structure makes sure Google ‘understands’ 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 A decent structure makes sure you do not compete with your content

On your website, you will probably have multiple articles about similar topics. At Yoast, we write about SEO. If we would write eight articles about SEO, Google wouldn’t know which of these pieces is the most important one. If we didn’t clarify this with our site structure, we’d be competing with our own articles for a high ranking in Google. So, solving problems like this with an excellent internal linking structure will result in higher rankings.

The ideal structure of a site

Ideally, you build your site like a pyramid. On top of the pyramid is your homepage and on the homepage are some other pages (categories). These pages, in turn, refer to even more pages.

In an effective content SEO strategy, your keyword strategy and the way you structure your site are related. In a proper keyword strategy, you have thought about common, competitive keywords as well as more long tail niche search terms. You should make a similar dichotomy should 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 one’s site structure

If you’re serious about content SEO, you’ll probably already have a live website. So it might be a bit too late to set up the structure of your site in an ideal pyramid-like way. Don’t despair; there are 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. Haven’t put any thought into which are your most important articles yet? Well, start thinking about that today. 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, you’ll tell Google which articles to rank highest. Read all about this in our article about incorporating cornerstones in 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’ll group your articles about similar topics. Don’t overdo it, though. Some people use more tags than they write articles. Using too many tags will lead to less structure on your website.

Always avoid duplicate content

The same content can turn up at multiple places on your site. As a reader, you don’t mind: you’ll get the content you came for. But a search engine has to pick 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 were all linking 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. In the advanced tab of Yoast SEO, you can configure the canonical URL.

Remove old content

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

Redirecting pages is not that hard. Our Yoast SEO Premium plugin 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 last resort, your homepage. This way the (outdated) page won’t interfere with your site structure anymore.

Solve orphaned content

The term ‘orphaned content’ refers to articles that don’t get any links from your other articles or posts. As a result 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). Link to that specific article from other (similar) content. Read more about orphaned articles and how to solve the problem 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.


The third and final aspect of a successful content SEO strategy is copywriting. You should write texts that are attractive to read. Texts that’ll 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 a bit overboard and optimize their texts so bluntly that they become terrible to read. At Yoast, we propose a strategy in which you optimize your text for the search engines, without making any concessions to neither the originality of your idea nor 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. Content that people will want to read.

If you did your keyword research right, you ended up with a long list of terms you want to be found for. This list can function as 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 new content. Of course, if your story is totally new, that’ll automatically mean it’s original. However, giving your (professional) opinion on a particular topic also counts as original content. Your 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. Who are they? What do you want to tell your audience? What’ll be the main message of your article? And what is the purpose? 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 second requirement for writing high-quality content is to write content that’s readable. Your article should be nice and easy to read. Readability is important for your audience and Google. After all, people read your text, but Google reads texts too.

If your text is well structured and clearly written, readers will understand the message of your text. It will also help Google understand the message of your text. If the main message of your post is clearer to Google, it’s also more likely that your post will rank in the search engines.

Readability has to do with text structure, sentence length, writing clear paragraphs and much, much more. Read all about it 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 the search engines

The final requirement for writing high-quality content is to make sure the content is optimized for the search engines. You want your content to be findable. Findability has to do with maximizing the likelihood Google picks 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 can help you tweak your text just a little bit better. 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 will indicate which aspects of your findability need a little bit more attention. Our 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 improve your chances to be picked up by the search engines. Read much more about optimizing your post in our article on how to use the content and SEO analysis. 

Conclusion on Content SEO

Content SEO is a huge part of SEO. It contains all the aspects that have to do with writing and structuring content on your website. Content SEO is essential. Google reads and scans text. Google’s algorithm decides the ranking of your site largely based on the texts you offer Google. 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’ »