Technical SEO vs Content SEO: A Primer
Traditionally, marketers have thought of SEO entirely in terms of technical optimizations such as improving page speed, including internal links, and implementing structured data. These optimizations make up what is now known as technical SEO, and while necessary, they are only a small part of a complete SEO strategy. The bulk of an SEO campaign in 2023 consists of content SEO—regularly publishing pages with original content that responds to search intent.
Here is a simple way to look at the difference between technical SEO and content SEO:
|Technical SEO||Content SEO|
|Definition||Technical SEO consists of making back-end optimizations to a website such as improving site loading speed, including structured data, and repairing broken images or links.||Content SEO is the process of creating keyword-targeted content that responds to search intent. This content is then published twice a week, leading to increased Google rankings for new keywords.|
|Importance in SEO||Technical SEO is a prerequisite for ranking but insufficient—Google will penalize sites with poor technical optimization but first page rankings require high quality content. It makes up ~30% of the Google Ranking Algorithm.||Content SEO requires an existing technical SEO foundation to be effective, but content-based factors make up the largest portion, ~50%, of a website’s ability to rank highly on Google.|
|Relevant Google Ranking Factors||
Next, we explain how to implement both technical SEO and content SEO in your SEO campaign.
How to Implement Technical SEO Optimizations
Technical SEO creates a strong back-end foundation so your website is able to rank highly, and is often one of the first steps in an SEO campaign. Ideally, your tech team will complete all repairs and optimizations while your strategists research keywords and create a Hub & Spoke-based content plan prior to content creation. Your tech team should should take the following steps:
- Make sure your site is indexable. The presence of a “noindex” tag on your pages will cause Google to skip over your content, preventing your site from ranking at all.
- Optimize your site for mobile. Google now uses mobile-first indexing to determine search rankings. Ensure that every page of your site is mobile optimized, ideally using responsive design, and that all content is the same between the desktop and mobile versions.
- Include and optimize structured data. Google uses structured data markups; such as JSON-LD, Microdata and RDFa, to read your content. Poorly implemented structured data can also be misinterpreted and prevent your page from ranking.
- Use an SSL certificate. Google penalizes sites that do not secure their traffic with an SSL certificate, and modern browsers mark them with an insecure site warning. SSL certificates are easily obtained through either your hosting provider or Let’s Encrypt.
- Keep content on a single domain. Subdomains are treated as separate sites, so any SEO improvements made to one subdomain are not shared with the others. The most common example of this is when companies place their blogs on a separate domain such as blog.website.com.
- Optimize Core Web Vitals responses and maximize page load speed. At 3%, page speed is a small but not insignificant factor in Google’s algorithm. Google uses Core Web Vitals to evaluate the UX for your website. Common penalties sites face are for slow First Input Delay—how quickly your site responds to user input— and Largest Contentful Paint—how long it takes your pages’ main content to load.
- Fix broken images and links. While Google does not directly penalize broken links and 404 errors, they have a major negative impact on user experience. This causes visitors to leave your site faster and your content to be less useful, both of which will lower your search rankings.
- Perform regular maintenance. After implementing all of the above, regularly audit your website to ensure your technical optimizations remain up to date. New content must also follow all of the above guidelines.
The above will remove any technical issues that will prevent existing and future pages on your site from ranking more highly. To actually secure high rankings, however, requires implementing content SEO.
How to Implement Content SEO
Content SEO begins with creating a content strategy, and the best way to do so is the Hub and Spoke model. In this model, every page on your site is either a hub that targets a general container keyword, or a spoke that targets a longtail keyword that contains a hub in its entirety. The below image shows an example of what this looks like for the hub “b2b seo”:
Creating content using the Hub & Spoke model can be thought as a 4-step process:
- Choose 4-6 Hub Keywords. Hub pages are the focus areas of your website, defining the 3-4 broad categories which make up its content. Businesses should select hubs based on 2 criteria: (1) ranking highly for any of the chosen hub keywords will ascribe significant authority to your business, and (2) each hub’s potential spokes are transactional, or in other words, they are searched by potential customers who are likely to convert to leads.
- Select Spoke Keywords. Spoke keywords make up the majority of your content and each hub will have many spokes. The key characteristics for a good spoke keyword are that it is (1) contains the hub keyword in its entirety; (2) the spoke is transactional; (3) it has sufficient search volume or the number of searches around the keyword justifies creating a page that targets it; and (4) your site does not already rank for it.
- Assign each spoke the right page type based on its search intent. The type of content that should be created for each keyword is directly related to its search intent, or in other words, the reason why a searcher typed the query into the Google search bar. The below table shows which page type should be created for keywords in each search intent category:
|Search Intent||Page Type|
(Most learn keywords are not transactional enough to justify targeting)
|Solve||Problem & Solution Blog Article|
|Evaluate||Comparison Blog Article|
- Creating the Best Content for Each Keyword. Finally, you may begin to create content. Doing so is a complex process which we cover in-depth in this guide, but in brief, your content must (a) respond to search intent by precisely answering the searcher’s implicit query; (b) exhibit an understanding of the searcher’s situation by using industry jargon, identifying with searcher pain points, and using relevant examples; (c) establish trust by providing valuable information quickly; and (d) capture reader attention through skimmable formatting and original graphics.
You should then publish this content on your website at least twice a week in order to secure Google’s News Website Bonus, allowing you to rank more highly for keywords in your hub.
Getting Help with Technical or Content SEO
Technical SEO and content SEO are both necessary to rank highly on Google, thereby successfully using SEO for lead generation. Because they require disparate skillsets, however, many companies find that they lack the in-house expertise to successfully handle every aspect of an SEO campaign.
As a result, many business choose to partner with an experienced SEO agency that can handle technical SEO, content SEO, or manage the campaign entirely. At First Page Sage, we have over 13 years of experience managing every aspect of SEO in order to achieve high ROI for our clients. If you would like to learn more about our process, reach out to us here.
Evan Bailyn is a bestselling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.