7 Steps to Publish Content That Ranks in Search
In my last post, I outlined 6 steps to doing successful keyword research. But once you've figured out which
topic to write about, what do you do next?
Here are 7 steps to publish content with the best chance of ranking:
Let's dive right in.
1. Define your keyword list for the page.
Choose a set of closely related keywords that relate to the topic. I select one keyword as the "primary" based on volume and relevance. The other keywords act in a supporting role.
Revisit the post on keyword research steps for more on this topic.
2. Perform competitive research.
SEO is a zero-sum game. Meaning, if you're not ranking for that keyword, someone else is. To rank, you have to knock someone off the SERP (search engine results page). Your content must be better, more unique, more thorough, more useful, etc., than every other page ranking on Page 1.
This is why competitive research is such a big deal.
Before drafting your content, research what other pages are currently ranking. Here are some factors to evaluate for each of the ranking pages:
What type of page is it? A long-form article, a short infographic, a video, a product page?
What topics and sub-topics is the page covering? How in-depth?
How is the page structured? What are the H2s, H3s?
What is the word count of the body content?
What persona(s) is the page targeting?
What rich media is present? Photos, charts, graphs, videos?
This competitive intelligence tells you what is ranking well. It also provides a roadmap for building winning content. Remember, your content has to be better than what is currently ranking. (There are many factors in search algorithms, but quality content matters. That is the focus of this research.)
3. Write it!
Look at your target keyword list and your competitive research, and start writing. It's best to write the piece as naturally as possible. Your human readers should be top-of-mind.
Here are some other factors to consider when writing:
Readability: Many readability checkers, both free and paid, assess this. For example, I used Readable.com to edit this post. (It got a Flesch Score of 70.)
Originality: Although you're using competitors as a guide, your content must be original. If your content isn't bringing anything new to the party, why would search engines rank it?
Tone: Each new content piece should match your brand's tone of voice, whether it's casual and fun or more buttoned-up and professional.
Length: Consider you competitors' content when it comes to word count. SEMrush found that articles with 7,000+ words get 4x the traffic compared to shorter ones. But the intent of your searchers should also be a factor in content length. I tell copywriting teams to take the attitude of, "a piece of content is complete when nothing else can be removed."
Skimmability: Webpages have become longer in response to Google's preference for ranking comprehensive content. But human attention spans are at an all-time low. Make sure readers can easily skim your content so they can decide to dive deeper. Include headings, bulleted lists, anchor links, images, or other elements that break up the page.
Format: The same SEMrush study also found that listicles outperform all other content. But again, the format of your page needs to meet the searcher's intent.
Headline: 10-13 word headlines generate 2x more traffic than shorter headlines. I use Coschedule's headline analyzer to rapidly create and compare multiple title variations. (Although I take the scores with a grain of salt.) Your headline matters for search because higher click-through rates signal to search engines that this content is popular. Lastly, it's best practice to use the primary keyword in the title – and the closer to the beginning, the better.
Once you've got a solid draft, it's time for a final SEO once-over.
4. Follow this checklist for final editing and publishing.
Content doesn't help you rank if it sits in a Google Doc for weeks, unpublished. Here's an on-page optimization checklist to follow as you review and publish:
Page URL (or Slug)
The character count of the entire URL shouldn't exceed 70 characters in total.
The URL should be short, logical, and contain the primary keyword.
Make sure you like it! I do not advise changing URLs after the fact unless absolutely necessary as it may damage rankings.
Make sure the primary target keyword appears in the first paragraph. Make it clear to readers and to search engines what this post is about.
Check how many times your target keywords appear in the body copy, a.k.a. keyword density. There isn't a "magic number" for keyword density. But my rule of thumb is 3-5 uses per 1000 words. Don't go overboard: the content should feel natural. Google values content well-matched to the searcher's intent over exact keyword matches.
Use your primary keyword in a subheading or two, if it sounds natural.
Add relevant internal links with keyword-rich anchor text, but not excessively. You want your reader to stay on the page and read the content, so don't invite them to click off to a different page every other sentence.
Make sure there are relevant outbound links as well. Often, these are reference links to stats or proof points you have referenced in the copy.
Use H2s for the sub-headings or page sections, and H3s for sub-sections. H1 should not be used in body text, as it's reserved for the page title only.
Do not upload massive images into your CMS – these are big files that can slow down your website. A good rule of thumb is to resize large images to 1200 pixels wide (a size that presents well in most viewports) and shoot for a file size of 50-90 KB. PhotoShop's "Save for Web" functionality can help you compress JPGs without sacrificing (much) quality, as can sites like Compressor.io.
Include an alt text tag on the image that describes what's going on in the image and ties in a keyword, if possible.
If the content would benefit from screenshots, graphs, charts, etc., and you're not a graphic designer, don't sweat it. A well-formatted Excel graph that helps explain a concept doesn't need to be the prettiest graphic ever created.
Meta Title and Description
Write a meta title that is fewer than 60 characters and uses the primary keyword. I like to use a variation of the page title/H1 (but not an exact duplicate).
Write a meta description that is fewer than 160 characters and uses the primary keywords while explaining the content. This is your chance to tempt searchers to come to your page, so keep it punchy.
With all those items checked off, you're ready to publish your content!
5. Share it.
But it doesn't end there. Generate some traffic for your new page before it gets (hopefully) picked up by search by sharing on your social media channels, sending to email subscribers, and any other distribution channels that make sense for your business.
6. Measure it.
It's easy to publish new content and promptly move on to the next thing on our to-do list.
But don't forget to measure how the content is performing. Here are some questions to ask:
Is the content ranking? Where? If not Page 1, what changes could we make to get it there?
How much traffic is the page generating? From which sources?
How many conversions are coming from this page? (If that was the objective of the page.)
How is this content performing compared to our other pages?
If it is successful, what elements of this page could we emulate on other pages?
Evaluating how your content performs enables you to create your own set of tailored insights. That brings me to the final step...
7. Compile your own data on what works.
It can be difficult to find useful website benchmarks because of unique factors within your industry, your business, and a host of other elements. That's why it's important to benchmark against your own success.
For example, let's say you have a goal of generating a 20% increase in organic traffic. If you've been measuring the rate at which your website's pages reach Page 1, you can more accurately forecast the amount of work it will take to reach that goal. That also allows you to assess what additional resources you may need to accomplish the task.
Of course, rankings are ever-fluctuating. But this analysis is still worth doing.
A real-world example: I performed this analysis on a corporate website. I found that, on average, for every 5 pages of content they generated, 1 page ended up ranking on Page 1 of Google Search (usually for multiple keywords). This validated their hunch that their content was operating on the Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule. It also helped them plan SEO and copywriting resources for an organic traffic growth campaign, since they had an idea of how much content they'd need to generate to drive rankings.
There are no guarantees in this business, but measuring what has been successful and using it to plan future strategies gives you some degree of control.
What checklist do you follow for publishing content? What results have you seen?