In every great marketing organization, there is always the same debate: “Where does SEO fit into a content marketing strategy?”
And you know what I say to that? Grab two chairs, put them right next to one another at the table, and get cozy. There is no way for a marketing team to succeed without organic content strategy, because what is the point of writing about something no one will read? More importantly, what’s the point if it’s never going to drive revenue for your business?
I started my career as an “SEO Content Writer.” In my interview, I admitted I had no idea what SEO meant. This was a long time ago, and no one really knew what it meant. We were still stuffing “3-5 bolded exact match” keyword phrases into sentences.
I knew I wanted to write, and I had a really expensive business degree — but I didn’t understand how fascinated I’d become with figuring out how to drive revenue with content marketing strategy…and using SEO to do that.
Fast forward to now: over the last four years, I have been managing the content marketing strategy at Upserve. During that time, that has meant various things in terms of content strategy and execution, depending who was leading the marketing organization and what our goals were. But one thing remained the same for me — I was going after organic keywords with our content strategy.
I was focused on search rankings. I was maniacally targeting rich snippets. I was obsessed with metadata, anchor URLs, and backlinks. And I was telling the entire content team how to replicate my madness.
When we went "editorial," and our content was supposed to be journalistic and newsroom-style, I was still using SEO best practices and intensive keyword research to drive content strategy, from top of funnel all the way down to the bottom. And it worked.
The content team would ask: “Why are the articles your strategy is focusing on consistently outranking, outperforming, and driving more marketing leads?”
One answer: because you’ve got to think like a writer, but strategize like an SEO.
What do I mean by that? Well, let’s talk about restaurant licenses and permits, shall we?
At the time I am writing this, an article I wrote on this topic is currently responsible for around 4% of the total traffic to our website. It ranks third in our landing pages, right after the homepage and pricing page. For a long time, it was the featured snippet on Google for a wide array of long tail search phrases.
I don’t have a deep passion for restaurant licensing laws. I didn’t wake up one night in a cold sweat, struck with inspiration, thinking, “My god, I have to write about food handlers’ permits right now!”
Here’s what happened instead: I was building out our editorial calendar for the month from top to bottom of the funnel. I was thinking about new restaurant openings, a topic that’s relevant to our audience, and an eBook I had that was converting well on the topic of opening a restaurant. How could I drive more organic traffic to that page, and our site?
I started doing some keyword research on questions about starting a restaurant, and discovered that questions surrounding licensing were common. Easy enough — I write a post, optimize it with the right H-tags, keyword phrases, metadata and then secure backlinks.
Fast forward a few months: the organic marketing managers are in a meeting, and we’re strategizing about leads. We’re getting traffic, but it’s not converting. My SEO Manager thinks we should target more core product search phrases, and put demo forms on those content pages. But what if we just optimize where the traffic already lives?
You always have to think about your audience. The content that drives the most traffic to your website is often the things that are keeping them up at night. They landed on those blog posts because they helped them answer a question.
When I draft a blog post, I frame the content in a way that keeps the user’s attention span in mind. I bullet lists. I add tons of images. I talk to my video team about a quick explainer video. Why not a GIF? I optimize for time on page. I look into related questions — am I answering them all? I build in relevant CTAs on the page. I really hone in on the writer side of my brain.
But what we were missing was the lead generation component — so naturally, we made it an eBook. My SEO Manager came back to me with an entire Ahrefs report of all of the possible related search phrases, questions, long tail and semantic keywords in the known universe around licensing, laws, and the like. Liquor laws, state-specific laws, food handler’s permits, sign permits. I built an entire pillar post strategy and staggered the publishing out, ungated, on our site. Our designer put together a comprehensive guide. We pulled a landing page together and built an email program.
I went line by line with my SEO Manager and tweaked the meta data on every single blog post, and we optimized the H-tags together. We agreed to disagree…a lot. We had 110 AQLs in the first 30-days.
Nowadays, I repeat this process every day. Everything I write, and every strategy I come up with for demand generation, starts at the top with organic search and I pull the thread down.
On that example article, I have exit modals and CTAs set up, driving traffic to relevant eBooks and demos. I built internal links that naturally send people through our site. When I saw the traffic skyrocket, I built an entire pillar post strategy and eBook on the topic that I directed all the traffic to. Within 30-days, we had 110 organic AQLs from that eBook.
A writer’s job is to tell compelling stories. An SEO’s job is to get the company found. The problem is, if both of those people are not working together, they’re working against one another.
My job is to get us found. My job is to drive marketing leads once I get us found. Without SEO driving the top, my job is impossible.
But not every individual can do that alone, which is why you need them on the same team. More recently, our successes in organic marketing and content marketing allowed us to expand our goals even higher. On our marketing team, our core goals are simple: get found and drive AQLs.
And our SEO Manager sits directly across from the content team. We have bi-weekly meetings. We have monthly strategic planning meetings. I rely on my SEO Manager to tell me where our traffic is coming from. What keywords are ripe for opportunity? What content are our competitors outperforming us on? What content should we refresh in hopes of moving the needle and converting more traffic? He’s got the data and intel I need, and I’ve got the awareness of our audience, user experience, and writing to execute.
If I had to summarize, I’d say a perfect 10-step integrated content creation process would look like this:
- SEO Manager reviews 30-day website traffic and performance
- SEO Manager reviews keyword rankings and opportunities
- SEO Manager reviews competitor keyword rankings and opportunities
- Content Team reviews editorial calendar and content landscape
- Content Team reviews content performance
- SEO and Content meet and discuss their findings
- SEO Manager makes recommendations on focus area for next 30-days
- Content Team and SEO have collaboration and debate
- Plan is agreed upon and executed
- Rinse and repeat!
We Slack 52 times a day. I shout things like “... if I edit this URL structure will I break the site?!” across my desk. Our quarterly goals are aligned. He thinks about rank, analysis of traffic, technical SEO properties, and backlinks. I challenge him when he tells me we don’t need to write a 2,000 word blog post because our audience won’t read past 700 words but, “...I swear I’ll get the right on-page metrics in, and we can review in 30 days when we see time on site is high.”
At the end of the day, I could say that we’ve worked together holding hands singing campfire songs, and together have compiled a very long list of position 0 ranking keywords. But I’d be lying...about the campfire songs.
All I will say for certain is this: if you put SEO and content marketing on the same team, you will win.