17 SEO Experts Share Their Best Content Optimization Hacks [Featured]
This article was written by Shaurya Jain and featured on Curatti.
It is often said that if you write your content for the user, Google will reward your website with traffic. But if you ask the people working in the trenches, producing content every day, they will tell you otherwise. Content needs to be optimized both for the user and the search engines to get the most mileage out of it.
Here are 17 SEO experts sharing their favorite ways to optimize a piece of content:
Stephen Sumner, Founder, Optimise Agency
I like to see what the competition is up to on a given topic. Just reviewing the SERPs and absorbing the different content around a topic gives me a pretty good feel for what is needed in terms of quality and depth.
When I see mediocre or fairly vanilla looking content ranking in the SERPs for a topic with a good amount of traffic behind it, I know it won’t take too much production resources to create something superior. So I use this for identifying quick wins.
Then, once I have identified subjects and content where I feel the standard is fairly weak, I use tools like Clearscope and frase.io to find out gaps in the content and then include that in your content piece.
Yuri Burchenya, Cofounder, GetFound XL
If you know Google, you know that it’s VERY hard to rank with something they don’t want to show on the first page. Manually check the SERP for your focus keywords. Too many people just skip this step and rely on tools too much.
So instead of focusing on semantics, entities, and keyword intent, start with the basics. Spend more time actually looking at what Google currently ranks.
To borrow an example from Ryan Stewart, if you try to rank an article targeting keyword “how to get rid of pimples” WITHOUT actually looking at what currently ranks, you will totally miss the mark.
Because what Google ranks are all results that include the words “FAST” or “OVERNIGHT”. So your title and content structure need to reflect that.
Just looking at keyword data from Ahrefs or similar tools is not enough. You need to actually study what Google is ranking right now and take that into account. Of course, there are tools that can help you with that and provide you with more content optimization tips. Tools like Ryte, Clearscope, MarketMuse and many more.
Brandyn Morelli, CEO, Tilt Metrics
When we publish a new piece of content, we always run an experiment to optimize our headline. We’ll start by picking our favorite 3 headline variations for the post. Then we’ll use a Facebook Ad campaign to create three separate ads that are identical, except for the headlines. Using a $20 lifetime budget for the ad set and a 1% Look-Alike audience created from our blog visitors, we’ll run the ad campaign for 24 hours.
After the ad-set finishes, we’ll look at the CTR for “Outbound Link Clicks” to see which variations led to the most clicks to our blog post. Once we find the winner, we’ll update our blog title and promote it across our social channels and relevant industry sites
You may also want to read: How to Write Great SEO-Friendly Content in 2020
Tom De Spiegelaere, Director, Mango Matter Media
If we want to optimize a bunch of older long-form articles w/o having to rewrite large parts of them, we usually focus on 2 aspects:
- Content up until the first CTA: If we decide to rewrite anything during the quick fix phase, it’s always the content up until the first CTA. We add a combination of humor and authority signals (more on authority/trust signals in #2). People like to skim content anyway, so make sure the intro is fantastic and entertaining, right up until your first CTA. Maximize the CTR of that first CTA, as it’s – in most cases – the most important one on the page.
- Add authority/trust by adding more statistics (while referencing them), and using those statistics to break up walls of text by putting the numbers in block quotes and graphs/charts. Go through the content. Find places where you can insert a number or statistic. Find the reference/source of the statistic so you have somewhere to link out to. Then write something like “According to the x research group,…”.
Use those numbers to create a graph/chart/image and/or block quotes. These are interesting visual elements you can now use to make your content more visually appealing while showing you know the topic well (which usually has a positive impact on your conversion rate).
Jason Berkowitz, SEO Director, Break the Web
Many content creators think content optimization is all about getting in the keywords as much as possible. Of course, keywords will always be necessary. But Google actually prefers content that is written to match the search user’s intent. Google has made specific changes in their algorithm that emphasizes user intent and experience, rather keyword optimization.
Aiming to understand the intent behind a search query is reasonably straightforward (that is, if Google is doing their job right).
One of our favorite ways to understand search intent is to make a quick Google search of the keyword, This gives us some great insight into what types of content are ranking for that particular query.
For example, if we sold wireless earbuds and wanted to rank for wireless earbuds, a simple search in Google will show us that 90% of the URLs that currently rank are not actually companies specifically. They are content sites doing roundups/reviews of the best wireless earbuds. In this case, Google believes that people are looking to see the best options out there, versus one brand in particular.
Focusing on content optimization for a query that definitely won’t match the intent or fit in the pack of organic results could be both time & money wasters.
Kevin Hilton, Director, Multi-Layer Marketing
Think about your content formatting. No one wants to click through to your website and be faced with a wall of text. This type of content is daunting and difficult to read, so visitors will be more likely to bounce from the page and go elsewhere. Properly formatting your content with headings, subheadings, and bullet points make it much more digestible and engaging.
What’s more, formatting your content helps Google to understand and rank it in the SERPs as headings and subheadings are a great way to naturally include your target keywords
You may also want to read: 6 Top Organic SEO Trends to Focus on
Corey Northcutt, CEO, Northcutt
I’ll limit this to content marketing/blogging because it’s actually pretty simple (at least in concept) and can be replicated with all free tools.
First, I use a problem/solution-centric keyword research tool like answerthepublic.com or alsoasked.com. These tools brute-force either Google’s AutoSuggest engine or the ‘People Also Asked’ output to give the most current data on questions that people are asking. Occasionally, I’ll look to Quora or ‘Help a Reporter Out‘ as well. Ideally, I’m interested in all the spokes in a wheel, so to speak, that rotates around a long-term (1-3 word) keyword ranking goal.
I don’t get hung up on keyword volume – at least, not when I’m doing content marketing. In part, because these specific tools don’t provide it. A good clue that a question gets more search volume is how often I see the same question phrased in alternate ways. But, if something gets searched frequently enough to appear on one of these tools, that’s almost always good enough. The intent is what really matters.
For example, if I’m writing for northcutt.com, 50,000 searches about “SEO services” are infinitely less valuable than 50 searches for “SEO agencies”. The former sells for $5 on Fiverr to every hobby blogger and affiliate marketers. That’s all well and good, but not aligned with my goals. The latter search is typically for businesses $2M+, and is simply a better fit for what I do.
Once inspired, I Google the topic in a few ways and read each of the top 20 results. I produce a stronger overall piece of content that, all our SEO tricks aside, deserves to rank. And, I make sure that it uses the keywords well, early in the title, and with secondary questions answered well in its subheadings.
Joe Robinson, Founder, Green Flag Digital
Aside from using tools to speed up the content optimization process, like Clearscope, MarketMuse, and Surfer, one of my favorite content optimization hacks is to create “long-tail stack” posts. Long-tail keywords are low in volume but may be high in search intent. And there are a ton of them to work with.
Rather than spinning your wheels trying to create a ton of thin posts like it’s 2008, I love the concept of stacking a bunch of these keywords into one monster post, hitting on all of them. I created the term “long-tail stack” for lack of a better term, but it’s essentially a variation of a pillar content piece, which touches on a lot of topics at a high level. In practice, each long-tail keyword grouping should be its own section.
I’ll then create a table of contents linking to each section, add in visuals, and then ensure I’ve implemented above-the-fold SEO best practices, which I’ve seen working really well, especially on mobile.
Dan Christensen, President, MorningDove Marketing
Readability is key to having actual humans consume your content. The longer I do SEO, the more I’m a believer that content should be fit for humans first, not search engines. If I owned a site, I wouldn’t want spun or low-quality content sullying the image of my business. That being said, readability has to smoothly integrate with our natural processes.
For example, making paragraphs smaller tends to make a piece of content more digestible, along with descriptive headers and subheaders.
Here’s a good way to look at it:
If the reader only came to your article to find one specific piece of information, how easy would it be to find it? If they can’t easily skim the content, you will lose more traffic to the dreaded “back” button.
You may also want to read: The Great Website Builder SEO Experiment [Infographic]
Karl Kangur, Director of Marketing, Smash Digital
As lame as it sounds, my number one content optimization hack is to try and put yourself in the users’ shoes once all the SEO magic is done (keyword optimization, SurferSEO, etc). Most content has the ultimate goal of making you money or driving some sort of sale – or at least providing the user with an answer. Read through your article from that perspective and compare it to what is currently ranking.
If you’re writing about the best email marketing tools for example, by the end of the article – could you objectively answer the question as a reader?
Curt Storring, Founder, Floor500
The biggest success we’re seeing with content optimization is making sure the page is totally aligned with search intent for a specific search phrase.
First, we check the first page of Google to see what type of content is ranking and make sure we are delivering the expected content type. For example, Google could be ranking only recipe pages or only pages with tools or only long-form content. By matching content type, we give ourselves the best chance to rank.
Then, we’ll analyze the main search term(s) and determine exactly what the searcher would need from our page to complete their search (i.e., not go back to the SERPs and click another listing).
This could mean:
- Writing a short, concise post answering a very specific question
- Putting together a full guide on a broad topic
- Anything in between
The important thing is that it matches the intent the searcher had when entering their query.
if you’re trying to optimize content that’s not ranking, I highly recommend ensuring that you’re matching what Google believes the search intent to be for your search terms.
Chris Sloane, President, Heaviside Group
Content optimization today is increasingly data-analysis driven. There are a ton of tools out there that help with this. MarketMuse and ClearScope do a great job of assessing the top content for a given keyword and providing a “roadmap” of how to build your content.
For existing content, similar tools exist that allow you to asses that content against competitors for key on-page factors. On-page SEO has always been largely driven by placing the right words in the right spots on the page. Now though, those decisions can be guided by statistical assessments of what the other, competing content is doing. Surfer SEO is one example that has really taken off recently. CORA is another one that digs deep into the SERPs and uncovers the factors that likely matter most. These tools give SEOs a chance to drive improvement for clients much more efficiently than was previously possible.
You may also want to read: Why Backlinks May Hurt Your SEO & How to Boost Inbound Links
Michael Costin, Director, Local Digital
Go to Google Cloud Natural Language at https://cloud.google.com/natural-language
This is Google’s machine learning-driven natural language processing tool. And the Google promo page for the tool itself says the deep machine learning technology powers Google Search’s ability to answer specific user questions.
So, if Google are telling us they’re using this tool in powering their search results, it makes sense that as SEOs we should be using this tool too right?
The way we like to use it is to run passages of text from the top ranking sites for a particular keyword through the tool and identify the strongest keyword salience. We then make sure our copy at least matches the top ranking sites.
It can be an effective way to quickly optimize page copy and I bet most of your competitors aren’t doing it.
If you want to rank for a specific keyword then let Google tell you what to include in your copy. If you search for the target keyword in Google, about halfway down the search results page you often see a “People also ask” box like this:
That’s a pretty clear sign that Google considers these topics or questions relevant for that keyword. If you can address those topics in your content then it stands to reason the content will be considered more relevant.
Likewise, at the end of the Google search results page, there are “Searches related to” the keyword you entered.
If you can work all of these keywords into your copy it once again is giving Google the signals that your copy is relevant for the target keyword.
Amanda Thomas, Partner, Konstruct Digital
One of the first steps in content optimization is knowing what to optimize. I always recommend starting with some “Low Hanging Fruit” – content sitting on the second page of search with weak competition. While optimizing a key landing page or homepage might be important, you might be unaware of some quick-wins you can get from optimizing deeper articles.
A quick way to find some “low hanging fruit”:
- Using the organic research tool in SEMrush, search the domain in question.
- Filter for positions #11-20.
- Export the list. Using pivot tables or formulas, you can check for 3 things: low difficulty, volume, and most importantly, frequency. If you have a single page that is on page 2 for many related keywords, this is a great opportunity for content expansion. Expanding a single piece of content to include many long-tail keywords can be a simple, effective way to grow high-intent search traffic.
Once you’ve identified your low-hanging-fruit content, you can use writing tools like Clearscope and SEMrush Writing Assistant to help you expand your content and optimize for your target keywords. Added bonus: both tools offer Google docs add-ons to make your writing process even easier.
Jordan Choo, Managing Partner, Kogneta
After doing your typical high-level keyword research for a piece of content and publishing it, we’ll wait a few weeks for Google to start ranking the new piece of content. Then using Google Search Console data, we will mine for keywords that are topically related to the piece of content but, not explicitly mentioned. From there we’ll then either:
– Incorporate it into existing content by adding an additional section or sprinkling the keyword throughout the content
– Roll out a new piece of content that supports the previously published piece
We’ll rinse and repeat this process in order to continually optimize a piece until it is ranking for the set of keywords we’re going after.
You may also want to read: 8 Best SEO Practices To Avoid Google Penalties
Paul Leary, Founder, Are You On Page 1
1) I like to put a number in the SEO title and Page title – preferably an odd number, as they seem to get a better click response.
SEO title: 15 ways to increase your website visibility
Page title: 15 ways to increase your website visibility in the search engines
2) Another thing I like to do is make sure my main keyword is within the first 100 words of my page/post.
3) I keep exact Keywords that I’m trying to rank for within 3% of the articles’ total word count.
4) Internal linking is also a great way to help your article rank for your selected keywords. Go to google and type in your website and then the keyword your article is trying to rank for.
“[your website url] intext: [Keyword]”
Now the pages that come up are possibly good pages to link from to your article.
Brad Smith, Founder, Codeless
Optimizing content is pretty simple at the end of the day. It starts by asking:
* Is this content doing its job? Why or why not?
* What do we do to correct that with the least amount of effort to yield the highest return?
The first question is easy: should your content be ranking or converting, better/faster? Ahrefs and Google Analytics will answer that in about five minutes.
From there, the path to progress looks like:
- Do a quick SERP analysis for what’s already ranking well, and why. Look at the style of content (how to vs. list vs. case study vs. product page, etc.)
- Rewrite the content using optimization tools like MarketMuse or Clearscope that will help you better understand the search intent
- Make content easier to consume with better formatting, videos, audio, custom images, original screenshots, and more.
Rinse and repeat these three simple steps and watch content performance lift.
If you’re still having issues after, the problem isn’t page-level, but sitewide. So look into reorganizing content into pillars + clusters, create a silo with internal linking, and add more long-tail content to boost topical authority