SEO Content Best Practices for 2023
Throughout our 14 years of experience in SEO, our content teams have conducted 150+ campaigns on behalf of clients in a wide variety of industries. While our clients’ campaigns had different goals and budgets, each successful campaign had the same core elements. They are:
- Build your SEO content strategy using the Hub & Spoke Model
- Select Hub & Spoke keywords based on their search traffic, competition, current ranking, and commercial value
- Match page type to content based on their search intent
- Create thought leadership targeted to customer personas
- Publish new content at least twice weekly
- Create a conversion path from all SEO pieces
Below, we discuss each best practice in-depth, explaining how it contributes to a successful SEO campaign.
Build Your SEO Content Strategy Using the Hub & Spoke Model
Your content strategy is the bedrock on which your content rests, and the best way to create one is through using the Hub and Spoke model. This model organizes your content into clusters of pages covering similar keywords in order to increase Google’s perception of your website as a niche expert—one of the top factors in its 2023 algorithm.
To execute on Hub & Spoke, you must define each piece of content as either:
- A Hub: An organizational page targeting a broad keyword (eg. “team management software”, “b2b seo”)
- A Spoke: A page targeting a keyword that is longer than the Hub keyword but contains it in its entirety (e.g. “team management software for small businesses”, “b2b seo strategy”)
Most successful SEO campaigns target no more than 3-4 hubs, with each having a minimum of 8 spokes. The reason for restricting campaigns to 3-4 hubs is simple: few campaigns can support the publishing schedule necessary to generate results in an acceptable amount of time when their content is spread across more than 4 topic areas. It would be like trying to become competitive in 5 sports at once. If however, you’re able to publish excellent content 3, 4, or even 5 times a week, targeting more than 4 hubs would be reasonable.
Selecting Hub & Spoke Keywords
When selecting Hub and Spoke keywords, each keyword must be evaluated on the following 4 criteria:
- Search Traffic: Is there sufficient search volume to justify targeting the keyword?
- Competition: Do you have a reasonable chance of ranking for the keyword within 24 months of publishing a new page?
- Current Ranking: Is it a keyword for which your site does not currently rank?
- Commercial Value: Are searchers who type the keyword into Google in the market for your goods or services?
To justify targeting a keyword, the answer to all 4 of these questions must be “yes.” Note that in a Hub and Spoke context, this requirement means not only that each hub keyword be qualified, but also that each hub must have a sufficient number of spokes that are also qualified in their own right. To help you determine if a keyword meets each criterion, we discuss them in more detail below.
A keyword is only worth targeting if people actually search for it. The simplest way to determine this is to check if the keyword autocompletes in Google in a drop-down list of 10 when you begin typing the keyword, as shown below:
A drop-down with fewer than 10 entries indicates that search volume is low, and your potential return from targeting the keyword is limited. SEO tools such as ahrefs, Moz, or Google’s own Keyword Planner.
The vast majority of searchers click on results on the first page, with nearly 70% clicking on results in the top 3. To ensure you have a reasonable chance of ranking on the first page for a keyword within 24 months of publishing, compare the authority—either Moz’s Domain Authority or ahref’s Domain Rating—of the top results against that of your own website. If the first page results all have domain ratings of 70 or more, it is unlikely that your website will rank for those keywords unless your domain rating is similarly high. Note that should the first page results all be within the 30-50 domain rating range (or lower), your site may be able to secure a ranking within 24 months even if its domain rating is currently very low. This is because your domain rating will increase naturally over the course of an SEO campaign as your content attracts backlinks from other websites.
This criterion is simple: if your website already ranks for a given keyword, you should not create new content targeting the same keyword. Checking current rankings remains relevant over time as your campaign gains momentum, with existing content potentially ranking for related keywords as your domain rating rises.
Keywords are only commercially valuable to rank for if their searchers are in the market for your products or services. In other words, the reason the searcher typed a keyword into Google—the searcher’s intent—must be transactional. This is represented by the scale below:
Hub keywords will most often have exploratory search intent, while spoke keywords will be more transactional, having search interns that fall within the clarify, solve, evaluate, commit, or buy categories. Examples of keywords within each search intent, as well as more detailed descriptions of that search intent, are shown in the table below:
|Learn||Searchers who are novices in a topic and don’t know where to start.||what is project management|
|Explore||Searchers who have some familiarity with a topic and want to explore more deeply.||project management software|
|Clarify||Searchers who have a problem that they think might be solved by a product or service, but aren’t sure what the problem is.||benefits of project management software|
|Solve||Searchers with a specific pain point looking for a solution.||project management software for teams|
|Evaluate||Searchers who have decided they need a specific type of product or service, but aren’t sure which one is best for them.||best project management software|
|Commit||Searchers who have decided on a specific product or service, and are looking for a final push before committing.||project management software reviews|
|Buy||Searchers who have committed to a product or service, and are trying to find how to sign up or buy.||buy [software name]|
Search intent is not only a way to evaluate whether your campaign should target a keyword, it also informs the content you should create for that keyword. This begins with understanding what type of page each keyword demands.
Match Page Type to Content
The content you create is determined by the type of page it lives on, which in turn is determined by the keyword that page targets. The type of page that you should create for each search intent is shown in the table below:
|Search Intent||Page Type|
|Learn||N/A – insufficiently transactional|
|Solve||Problem & Solution Blog Article|
|Evaluate||Comparison Blog Article|
The search intent and page type informs the tone and style of the content you should create. Searchers who land on your website through an explore or clarify keyword are not ready to be sold to, and your content should seek to build trust. Most of these visitors are far from being ready to commit to a purchase, and sales oriented language will push them away. By contrast, when a searcher is ready to commit or looking for how to purchase, extraneous information will cause them to lose interest, and they should instead be quickly directed to where they can make a purchase.
Page type is a key element in determining the best type of content for a given keyword, but just as important is content quality, and who your content is written for.
Create Thought Leadership Targeted to Customer Personas
Each year, Google updates its algorithm with the aim of better connecting searchers with the content that best matches the search intent of their query. The best way to do so is to create thought leadership that is tailored to who those searchers in three ways:
- Portion size
Precision is a relatively simple concept. Your content should be tailored to the exact intent of each search, in the right format and without providing unneeded information that will bore your reader. Choosing the right page type above already accomplishes half this battle. The two remaining concerns, personalization and portion size, can be addressed by creating customer personas.
A customer persona is a detailed summary of a fictional member of your target audience that includes information such as their job title, responsibilities, performance metrics, and industry. Below is an example of one such persona that a project management software firm may create:
|Kevin is a mid-level software engineer at an enterprise-level firm. He is evaluated based on the quality of his programs and how well they are tailored to their client’s needs. Kevin has too much to do and not enough time to do it. He is looking for solutions to make his day run more smoothly. Kevin would greatly benefit from a project management software to ensure that all his daily responsibilities are being met.|
Personas allow your writers to create content that speaks more directly to the needs of your audience using the language of their industry, illustrating with relevant examples, and discussing the metrics your audience is concerned with. Personas also help speak to portion size, as they give your writers a sense of how much detail their content should include, with more expert audiences needing less explanation of complex concepts.
The above is only an introduction to creating thought leadership content, and doing so is a complex undertaking that we discuss in more depth here. Our next best practices answers the question: “How much content should I create for SEO?”
Publish New Content at Least Twice Weekly
Publishing new content at least twice is the minimum necessary to produce reasonable ROI from SEO. This is most important for new campaigns as each piece of content is an opportunity to both target a new keyword and to attract new links from other websites.
In order to maintain this schedule, your team will need to produce a thorough editorial calendar to track everyone’s progress and keep all members on the same page. An editorial calendar will include information on:
- Content Status: A designation of “pending,” “drafted,” “in review,” and “published” to keep track of where each piece of content is in the production pipeline.
- Deadlines: Due dates for writers, editors, final review, and publication to ensure that all team members are working on the same schedule.
- Relevant Links: Links to any relevant research that will help writers create content.
- Content Information: The keyword each piece of content targets, the search intent of each keyword, and which audience and personas are most relevant.
- Additional Questions and Comments: A space for team members to discuss any questions or concerns that may arise.
After publishing two pieces of content per week for 4-6 months, your website will experience what we call the News Website Bonus—a significant increase in the authority Google ascribes to your website, and with it a commensurate increase in rankings. Once visitors are arriving on your website, the final best practice ensures that they have a clear pathway for converting into leads.
Create a Conversion Path from All SEO pieces
Many marketers judge an SEO campaign by its ability to increase organic traffic. While this is not wrong per se, traffic by itself does not result in increased revenue for your business. To be genuinely valuable, each piece of content you create must bring in new qualified leads, and using SEO for lead generation depends on creating an optimized conversion path.
A conversion path is the practical implementation of an SEO conversion funnel, and refers to the specific pages visitors read on your website before converting to leads. Most of your website’s visitors will not be ready to convert after reading a single blog article or landing page. They will want to learn more about your company, clicking through to other blog articles, landing pages, About pages, case studies, or white in order to learn more about your company, as represented in the image below:
Each point along this journey represents both an opportunity to build additional trust with visitors, as well as a point where a visitor might lose interest and leave your website. Ensuring that visitors are presented with the most relevant—to them, the most interesting—pages at each step along the way requires once again evaluating the intent of their search. Content that targets highly transactional keywords should include links to case studies and review pages that provide visitors with the final push they need. Conversely, content that targets more research-focused keywords should instead link to white papers, blog articles, and other informational pages that help build trust with readers. Each page along this journey, including the original piece of content, must also include clear calls-to-action that allow ready-to-buy visitors to convert quickly and easily.
A clearly defined conversion pathway also creates opportunities for tracking micro conversions. Each page on the path can be individually tracked to see which pages need conversion optimization, and multiple pages that target the same industries or markets can be used for A/B testing in order to further improve your website’s conversion rates. Conversion tracking is best done using Google Analytics, which we discuss in more detail in SEO Conversion Tracking 101.
Implementing SEO Content Best Practices for Your Company
Creating effective SEO content is a difficult and time-consuming process that requires a diverse array of skills. Many businesses find that they do not have the in-house talent needed to create an SEO strategy and produce and publish high-quality content on a consistent basis.
As a result, many companies opt to work with a dedicated SEO agency that can handle every aspect of an SEO campaign. At First Page Sage, we have over 13 years of experience creating customized SEO strategies and content that results in excellent ROI for our clients. If you’d like to learn more about our services, reach out here.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.