The practical guide to content driven SEO

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Google’s recent aggressive moves towards eliminating web spam have made search engine optimisation (SEO) more complex than ever. Not only is understanding the complexities of Google more challenging but there is also more on the line with regular Google changes having potentially big impacts on your rankings.

I believe that founders are better served by focusing on a content-driven approach to SEO and moving away from stressing over the latest Google changes or link building strategies.

One thing will never change with Google – if you create exceptional content and do a good job at sharing it, you will be rewarded.

In this post I will outline how I approach SEO and run through a simple structure for other founders (who aren’t SEO experts) to do the same.

1. Create lots of content

It’s possible to still get a lot of traffic from Google by doing zero SEO and just creating lots of content. Even if your content is average, you could quite easily turn Google into your biggest traffic source simply by creating lots of said average content.

Here’s a screenshot of my current traffic stats for Informly (note this is an older post and this traffic is out of date, we are now getting tens of thousands of monthly visits to our site). This is a very new site, only a few months old in it’s current form, it has less than 20 articles on it and I have done very little SEO.

This chart shows 1 month worth of traffic to Informly. With limited SEO and around 20 posts, Google is still by far my biggest referrer of traffic.

The reason for this is ‘Long Tail’ keywords. These are longer phrases that are less competitive and are only getting a handful of searches. For each article you write there might be 10 or 20 keywords that you haven’t even thought of that people could potentially enter into Google to find the article. You might only get 1 visitor from each keyword, but over hundreds of keywords across your blog, this adds up.

So the good news is you can completely ignore the rest of this article if your goal is simply to get some easy traffic – just go out and create a lot of content. If however you want traffic that converts (long tail traffic doesn’t convert very well), or you want traffic from sources other than Google (no one’s going to share your average content), or you want to get the maximum amount of traffic for the minimum amount of work, then you better read on.

2. Basic keyword research

Just spending 5 minutes doing very basic keyword research for each post can have a big impact. As an example my post on Financial Performance Metrics for small business ranks between 1 and 5 in Google depending on your country for the keyword ‘Financial Performance Metrics’. I get around 10 visitors a month for people who search for that exact keyword because I optimised for it specifically. Obviously that’s not a huge amount of traffic but if you think long term and you can do the same thing for every article you write, this can turn into a lot of extra traffic.

So to optimise for a specific keyword you need to choose one that you have a chance of ranking for (particularly since we aren’t going to be doing any link building). If you get in the habit of doing this for every post you write, over time you’ll learn which sorts of keywords are the best choice for you.

Here’s the process to follow for every new blog post on your site.

Step 1 – Visit the Google keyword tool and put in a few keywords that relate to your post.

Step 2 – Choose some filters based on exact searches (these numbers will vary a lot depending on the authority of your blog but for me, after a few posts I’ve learnt I can fairly easily rank for keywords getting between 50 and 200 exact searches).

Step 3 – Choose ‘Exact’ match on the left so you get the number of people searching for that exact keyword.

Screenshot of the Google Keyword tool, click the image to see how the full page looks with the filters etc.

Step 4 – Click search, then look through the results. You will hopefully see quite a few that match your criteria. Pick the one that best reflects the content of your article and also give consideration to what sounds the best incorporated into a post title (you will have to use the keyword in your title).

Here’s how my results looked.

There are quite a few potential keywords for me to choose. I chose ‘financial performance metrics’ because it was the best at reflecting my post content and worked well as a post title.

I don’t bother looking at the competition which is referring to Adwords competition and may not reflect the actual competition level of the natural search listings.

3. Craft a shit hot post

If you don’t want to be an expert in link building (trust me you don’t, it’s boring) then you need to get other people to build links for you. The way you do that is by creating exceptional content that people find useful and therefore share on social media and forums etc. This at the same time will build on your on page usage data which is also going to be increasingly critical for SEO rankings in the future (see SEO Moz future of search).

Here I’ll break down my post on Google Analytics Advanced Segments as an example for the specific steps.

Step 1 – Choose a complex topic and simplify it for your audience

Rather than write a lot of smaller posts I prefer to write long, detailed, specific posts on a subject (like this one). Forget about the ‘Top 10 ways you can learn from x recent event’ and ‘Top 10 WordPress plugins’ etc. This content is out there already, people don’t want more of it. Instead take a more advanced topic (which will have less written about it) and simplify it for your audience.

Step 2 – Write a long and detailed post

Simplifying a topic doesn’t mean making it short. If you really want to impart knowledge then you need to go into detail. I’m a fan of writing long and detailed posts that people can really get stuck into. Get down to the nitty gritty of how to do a specific thing and make sure the reader can use your post as a resource to follow when they want to implement something. This makes it truly useful and something they are likely to bookmark and share.

Kiss Metrics are the masters at this with their ‘Marketing Guides’, which are really just long, detailed articles on a particular topic.

Kiss Metrics have a world class blog filled with long and detailed posts ‘Guides’

If you can make your post about doing something (i.e. setting up Advanced Segments) then it’s easy to be very specific and include step by step instructions.

Step 3 – Include lots of media

Include lots of images to make your posts more visually appealing and help the reader digest the information. I like to choose procedural posts like this one because screenshots are a very easy way to embed original, useful images. If you can embed videos this is great too and will break the post up and appeal to a wider group of visitors.

Original images might also have the benefit of being able to be leveraged in other places like Pinterest or if you are really keen, Info Graphics might be picked up by larger sites.

Step 4 – Use your business as a case study

Your content needs to be unique and interesting. By far the easiest way to do this is to include interesting information about your business or even make the post about your business. That’s what I’ve done in this post (with all of the examples). That’s what Pat Flynn does with his popular income report posts. No one else can produce content about your business like you can and the more you reveal the more interesting it will be for people.

The other benefit of doing this is if your ultimate goal is to generate interest in your products and services you can introduce the reader to these in a frictionless way because the product is core to the post.

4. Do basic on page SEO

If you use WordPress this step is easy and usually involves 2 components.

Step 1 – Theme setup (one off)

I won’t go into this in too much detail in this post but any decent web developer should be able to make sure your theme is well optimised. Generally the main things to tick off here are:

  • making sure your theme is using the right tags in the right places (for example your post titles are H1 tags)
  • making sure it’s coded with clean HTML / CSS
  • making sure you have a sensible permalink structure (just postname is fine)
  • making sure you have something like WordPress SEO by Yoast installed to help with the rest.

Step 2 – Article optimisation

Each time you publish an article you’ll have to do some basic on-page SEO. Using Yoast this is super easy because it will give you a green light when it thinks your article is well optimised.

The main points are:

  • Make sure your keyword is used in your post title. This in turn will make sure it appears in your heading tags, any auto generated internal links and your page URL (permalink).

  • Mention the keyword in your first paragraph. Usually this is pretty easy and you would normally do it anyway.
  • Add your Yoast settings (focus keyword, SEO title and meta description). The keyword should match your chosen keyword exactly and your title and meta description should include your keyword and also entice the person in Google to come check out your article if possible. Here is a simplified screenshot of the Yoast settings for the Advanced Segments article.

Simplified screenshot of the Yoast settings for the advanced segments article.

This is generally enough to get the green light from Yoast and it is about as technical as you really need to get in terms of on page SEO.

5. Build your social presence

Social media is critical when it comes to content driven SEO for 3 reasons.

1.  Content sharing

There is no point having great content if no one knows about it. Remember the goal is to make your content useful enough that people talk about it and link to it. This won’t happen if people aren’t sharing it so you have to get the word out. Social networks and forums are the best places to do this so with that in mind here are some tips.

  • Build up a presence in places like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and in forums in your niche.
  • Make sure you help your followers out so they like you (people won’t share your stuff if they don’t like you).
  • Make sure your content is good enough for them to want to follow you and share it.
  • Be active in your comments thread and encourage discussion.
  • Make sure you have easy sharing buttons on your site and you regularly share your own content (at least at first).

CopyBlogger regularly gets 500-1,000 retweets for their blog posts. Content needs to be shared to do well in Google. Their 117,000 Twitter followers help.

2.  Social signals

Most SEO experts agree that social signals (such as likes, shares, retweets, +1’s etc) are extremely important in determining Google’s rankings and will only increase in importance in the future.

2 out of the top 3 most increasing ranking factors according to SEO Moz are social signals (full list).

Obviously the better your content and the better you are at getting it out through the social channels, the better these signals will look.

3.  Personalised results

Personalised results are often forgotten about with SEO but it’s been a big trend of the last few years. If Google knows that the person searching for the keyword likes you or your site already then your site will be elevated in the rankings. This could take many forms and no doubt many more in the future for example if the peson regularly visits your site, or if they follow you on Google+ or Youtube etc.

Other examples could include notes in Google saying who out of the visitor’s friends shared the post or Google showing your profile pic when it shows your posts.

If you are active in social media all of these things will happen more often and will have more impact when they do. For example if I put a post out on SEO it may not rank well for an SEO related keyword. However if I have 1,000 followers on Twitter who know what I look like, know my name, regularly visit my site and share my content then it will have much more chance of ranking well for them.

Social simply can’t be ignored if you care about Google traffic but really all it takes is putting out good content, sharing it in suitable places, getting active and helping people out.

That’s it?

You now officially have permission (from me) to stop worrying about SEO and get onto creating useful content.

If you have any thoughts on SEO, link building or using content as the main focus for your SEO strategy I’d love to hear from you below.


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Dan Norris is a co-founder at WP Curve and a passionate entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing.

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