Content Planning for Search Engine Optimization

This post doesn’t describe the actual creation of content for a site, from an SEO stance, but it does detail some of the planning and steps that can be taken to help in the process.

It also doesn’t discuss some of the technical aspects of SEO that should be planned for to make a site easier to be found by search engines. But it does provide a number of questions that may make it easier for someone who is considering optimizing their site for search engines as they are putting together content for the pages of their site.

One of my favorite articles of the past few years on design is a Digital Web article from 2003 by G.A. Buchholz, titled A Content Requirements Plan (CRP) helps Web designers take a leadership role.

I think that part of the planning of the content of a site also should include an awareness of search engines, and a knowledge of some SEO goals. Those goals aren’t too difficult to keep in mind when it comes to creating the words for a site, but are definitely worth considering:

  • Find and use words that are important to your audience, and that they expect to see,
  • Advance the goals of your site in the creation of your content,
  • Understand who your competitors are, and what they are doing on the web, and;
  • Define a unique selling proposition that helps you stand out.

Many people who engage in SEO consultation are contacted after a site has been created, with a design in place, and a lot of effort undertaken to get the site easy to use, and made persuasive and engaging. But, often the best time to talk with an SEO is before those efforts are made, so that many best practices can be shared and discussed while steps along the way are made to create an effective web site.

I like the Content Requirements Plan discussed in the Digital Web article because it sets up a framework for building a site, and discusses the roles of the people involved in that effort. One of the pre-project planning items involves creating “User Profiles,” which is a section where SEO keyword research can be really helpful. Keyword research doesn’t involve finding words to optimize pages for that will bring high levels of traffic. Instead, it focuses upon finding words that people who are the intended audience of the site will use to search for the site, to help fulfill the objectives of the site owner.

The content assessment created through this process also includes finding “key content categories or descriptions.” This is another area where SEO research can be helpful.

Here are some research guidelines that can be used to help, and can complement this effort in finding the right words to use on a page to benefit both visitors to a site, and the search engines that index those pages:

Defining a site’s objective:

It helps to define the goals of your site from an early point. A site may have more than one. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Selling goods
  • Selling services that aren’t offered directly on the site itself.
  • Attracting subscribers to online services hosted by the site.
  • Generating leads.
  • Educating an audience
  • Sharing information
  • Attracting advertisers
  • Building a reputation for a person or organization
  • Building a community
  • Storing and offering whitepapers and documents
  • Allowing private communications between members of the organization.

One of the nice things about considering a site’s objectives early, is that it also allows you to define metrics to measure how well the site meets these objectives. This approach is more complicated than creating a ranking report for certain keywords, but it can be much more satisfying to see that the goals of a site are being reached.

For example, when it comes to optimizing a large site that sells goods for search engines, instead of focusing upon a few broad and popular terms to rank well with, it might be better to try to make sure that individual product names rank well in the search engines. That may mean making sure that a search engine indexing program can successfully index a large dynamic site, and that each page has its own unique page title, headlines, and content which reflects those product names. It can also possibly mean that those products are accompanied by some articles that provide visitors enough information to make an informed purchasing decision as well as giving search engines something to index.

Looking at the products or services offered

This page on a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) may be helpful for some of the following questions.

  • What are the products or services offered on the site?
  • Is it selling goods or services directly online?
  • What are the strengths of the products or services to be presented?
  • What are the weaknesses of the products or services to be presented?
  • Are there opportunites envisioned in the sale of these goods and services that may not be met online presently?
  • Do any threats to the sale of goods and services exist? What are those?
  • If the site is intended to generate leads, is there a preference that people call, email, fill out forms, visit a location in person?
  • Are there any unique challenges to offering the goods or services or information, such as legal restrictions based upon age of visitor, distribution of goods, subject matter of the site, protection of visitors’ privacy rights, protection of trademarks (those associated with the organization and others), copyright of materials used, or others?
  • Are there some related goods offered by others? If so, what are they?
  • Are there some related services offered by others? If so, what are they?
  • Who are those others who offer similar goods or services online and offline, and what else do they do?
  • Have there been others who provided the site owners with online marketing services, and if so, what types of efforts did they make?

These are marketing inquiries, and a number of folks who engage in Seach Engine Optimization may say that these steps go beyond what an SEO does, but an effective effort to optimize a site for SEO could, and should take ideas like these into account. One of the areas where an SEO may be most effective is analyzing and explaining what competitors are doing on their sites to attract audiences. Which leads to looking at audiences and competitors:

Who is the intended audience?

  • Are the products or services geared towards a specific audience?
  • If the products or services aren’t aimed towards a known or defined audience, is it possible to envision certain groups that might be more attracted to those goods or services than others?
  • What is the geographical range the goods or services will be (or are) offered within?
  • Are there other demographics that will help in gaining an understand who the audience is, including age, gender, income levels, education levels, experiences and backgrounds, occupations, personality types, and more?
  • Is there an audience that might be missing from the existing site, or the planned site? Might these audiences be reached through gift certificates, wish lists, wedding registries, or other means that can draw an unanticipated audience to the site?

Who are those competitors?

Some of this type of information can come out in questions in the “products and services” section above about Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Interestingly, many planning to build a site, or running an existing site may see their competitors as one group, without being aware that they are competiting with other groups for traffic on the web – sometimes inadvertently. There are times when words and phrases commonly used in one niche are also popular in others. And trade groups, discussion boards, and topical directories can be competitors in search engine results.

  • If the site has online competitors, what are their web site addresses if known?
  • Are there offline competitors that offer similar goods and services?
  • Are there any industry groups, trade journals, online industry directories and forums, user groups, consumer review sites, or industry educational sources that can be used to build a better understanding of competitors? Where do the site owners turn to when they want to keep track of news and information within their specific industry or market?

Knowing who your competitors are, and seeing what efforts they are making to reach out to an audience is an important step. Being able to articulate why they are considered competitors, understanding what approaches they are taking, and grasping how effective they are at those efforts can be helpful.

But knowing something about your competition doesn’t mean that you should imitate them. Instead, it could be valuable to find ways to differentiate yourself from them, which leads to developing a USP.

What is the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) behind the site?

It’s important to know who the audience of a site may be, and just as important to know who the competitors are. In that competition, in reaching out to that audience, it’s also important to understand how the people behind a site want to reach out to that audience.

  • What differentiates what this site offers, or will offer, from that offered by the people in their market who offer similar goods or services?
  • What would the site owners say or offer to potential customers that would persuade those people to want to do business with them, or visit their web site?
  • What do they offer to get people to become repeat visitors?
  • What do they have on their site for people who have already purchased their goods, or used their services?
  • What is it about what they offer that would have other people recommend their site to friends, family, or business associates? How can they make it easier for visitors and customers to become evangelists for their site and their organization?

Developing Categories and Keywords

Armed with this information about site objectives, what’s offered, intended audience, competitors, and USP, it becomes a lot easier to come up with categories and words and phrases to use on a site. Here are some other considerations to find some of those words that a targeted audience may use to find a site, and expect to see on the pages of that site.

  • If they have an existing site, what words have people used to find their site previously? These can often be found by looking in log files, or web analytic tools used by the site.
  • Again, if they have a site, does it use a site search function? If so, that may be a good source of information in finding information about what people hoped to find on the site.
  • Do they have brochures and other marketing materials that describe what they offer such as brochures, catalogues, ads for other media, stock responses that they send to potential clients and existing customers, newsletters, articles, published interviews with members of the organization, or others).
  • Are there specific terms of art within the industry that their audience may be mostly unfamiliar with? What are those?
  • Are there specific terms of art within the industry that their audience will likely be familiar with, and may expect to see upon the site? Likewise, are there terms of art within the niche that audience members may not be familiar with?
  • Which products or services do they want to emphasize the most, based upon a return on investment?
  • What products or services do they offer that they may believe are in an emerging marketplace?
  • Do they have any other web sites? If so, what are they, what do they offer, and what are their addresses?

Conclusion

SEO involves an expertise in taking steps like those above, and using other research methods to help build content for a site. It also can involve writing in a persuasive and engaging manner, and avoiding potential technical problems that may keep a search engine from crawling and indexing a site.

Answering questions like those above can make it easier to plan for incorporating search engine optimization into the content of a site.

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31 thoughts on “Content Planning for Search Engine Optimization”

  1. That’s some solid ground for building great SEO presence over there, Bill.

    Worth bookmarking for re-reading as well :)

  2. Outstanding post. This is a doozy! You’ve provided some very valuable information here. I’ve bookmarked this site and will come back often.

  3. Thanks for the post! I found it linked through Jim Boykin’s blog and I really appreciate it. I recently co-authored a book on SEO and we decided to make Chapter 1 all about clarifying the GOALS of the business. It felt a little bit odd putting this right up front before we even talk about search engines, but in truth it’s the most important step of the process. Start with “what is the goal of my organization” and work your way to “what is the goal of my website” and on down to “what is the goal of this SEO campaign.”

    This also ties into web analytics, because if you put the thought up front into what you are trying to accomplish, it will be easier to measure down the road.

    Thanks and good luck!

    Gradiva Couzin
    http://www.yourseoplan.com/

  4. Hi Gradiva,

    I’m really happy that you stopped by and left a comment.

    Congratulations on the release of your book – I took a look at the table of contents, and some of your worksheets, and it looks as though we share many similar philosophies regarding holistic and effective ways to help a site achieve its goals, and attain visibility online. From what I’ve seen, it looks like it will be helpful to a lot of people.

    I know that it’s grown to be a bit of a cliché, but I like the old saying that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Understanding what your goals are when you undertake any effort, and finding a way to measure them does make it easier to accomplish and achieve success.

    That you started your book off with the idea of understanding and setting goals says a lot of positive things about it. I hope that it does well, and wish you the best of luck with it.

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  6. Great post. Just found your blog (via Jim Boykin’s blog) and I really liked the advice you give. It’s very similar to what I tell my clients. In the competitors section, I would add to look for “keyword competitors”. These are competitors who show up for your targeted keywords, but may or may not compete directly with you for business. These are worth watching as well.

  7. Thanks, Tony.

    Good to have you stop by.

    Definitely, there are business competitors that may be trying to rank for the same keywords, and there are those who aren’t business competitors who may also want to rank well for those phrases.

    I mentioned trade groups, discussion boards, and topical directories in the section on competitors because I often see those types of sites ranking well for terms that a business might also want to rank well for.

    Thanks for making that point more clearly than I did.

  8. Great advice for SE Markerters.. Everyone should read this..

    Thanks for the great post.

  9. This article clearly points how to manage your SEO projects using standard management techniques. Nice way to look at things.

  10. According to me, the content for a website or an article should be written in a readers point of view. Moreover, the content should be written for the readers and not the search engines. Writing the content for the readers will make the keywords fall in place automatically. I use Google trends and write articles based on the current trend. Does that make sense?

  11. Hi Glenn,

    I agree with you completely that the content of a website should be written for the audience of the site. That’s why I suggest in my post that anyone doing SEO for a site learn as much about what the site has to offer and who the site is written for. Once you understand the objectives of a site, and who the audience of the site is, it can be a lot easier to make decisions about things such as which keywords to consider using, and what information to include on the pages of the site.

    Looking at Google Trends isn’t a bad source of information, but there are many others that might be worth looking at also.

    For example, if I were to create a site that sold seeds for heirloom vegetables, I would probably spend some considerable time at forums and blogs and other places where people discussed their gardens, what they are growing, how interested they might be in heirloom vegetables, and what kinds of words they used to talk about them.

    I would look at potential competitors’ sites to see what approaches they were taking and possibly failing to take, what words they were using on their pages and possibly which words they might have missed. That might lead me to discuss things such as the history of heirloom vegetables, the best growing conditions and times for those vegetables, organic growing tips and ideas, and other information that might be interesting and engaging for my audience.

    I would spend a fair amount of time looking at the pages that showed up in search results for keyword phrases not only to see how competitive the keyword phrases I was considering using might be, but also to see if those words were used in other ways to describe things completely unrelated to heirloom vegetables.

    Looking at the latest trends and popular phrases is helpful. Creating valuable resource material may be another good idea.

  12. Extremely comprehensive post. Thanks.

    It’s amazing how many companies pay to have a site built, and then worry about SEO after the fact. Considering your points above prior to or during the website development process would surely save an organization from unnecessarily creating two projects instead of one.

    Thanks again.

    -Jason

  13. Hi Jason,

    Thank you. I’ve worked on a number of projects where concerns about SEO were included in the original development of a site, and it can really help. But many of the sites that I do work on are more likely ones that have been around a while, and are going through a redesign with SEO as an integral part of that redesign. Either way, it’s nice working with designers and developers that understand that SEO can be an important part of how successful a site can become.

  14. Really fantastic post.

    I have trouble sometimes getting the information I need from my clients and this article has helped me a ton!

  15. Hi Scott,

    Thank you. I’ve found it really helpful to ask questions like the ones in this post at the beginning of an SEO campaign – it does make it easier to move forward with suggestions and ideas for a site. It’s also had a few clients admitting that they hadn’t thought about some of the questions before and spurred them on to come up with some ideas and suggestions on their own that helped improve their sites and businesses.

  16. You are right, ask the correct questions and things should be smoother down the road. I have had to learn this the hard way but I always make sure I learn from my mistakes.

    Thanks once again for the advice.

    Cheers

  17. You’re welcome, Scott.

    The only thing better than learning from your mistakes is learning from other peoples’ mistakes before you make the same ones. :)

  18. I like the point you make that webmasters could do more to take a leadership role with the SEO for a website. Sometimes web development and SEO are not skill sets that automatically come together.

    Regarding writing content for a website, I believe that in addition to these ideas, other fresh content such as blog posts or articles should also be a part of the strategy. More here- http://priorityresults.com/blog/why-search-engine-optimization-services-should-leverage-content/

  19. Hi Brian,

    People with those skills don’t always work well together, but I think that the skill sets are complimentary, and developers and SEOs can often work together to make sites that are both effective and more likely to be found by people searching for them.

    Liked your article and the approach that you describe. It’s part of a strategy that I’ve been using effectively on some sites for a good number of years.

  20. Excellent article Bill and still ringing true now. I just had a client whose site was entirely constructed using Ajax to pull in the content (leaving only one page for the search engines). It looked wonderful though, such a shame. If just a bit more sensible planning happened earlier.

  21. Right now, my company is considering a re-branding that will involve a total website redesign. While we’re still in the early planning stages of this initiative, your questions and considerations will be very resourceful as we hold preliminary meetings and begin to look for a consultant to assist us with this huge undertaking. Thanks so much for your help!

  22. Hi Lisa,

    You’re welcome. I’m happy to hear that you have found this set of questions as useful as I do. I find it really helpful for me to have answers to these kinds of questions when starting off on a project.

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