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5 Ways to Optimize Your Blog for Search

Blogging isn’t new. If you’re using content marketing at your company, whether you've implemented a robust, revenue-generating program or just recently gotten started, I'm sure you've written a few blog posts in your time.

Influence & Co. has been creating content for our blog, The Knowledge Bank, for years, and those blog posts have served plenty of important purposes. They've helped our marketing team generate qualified leads and engage site visitors and subscribers. They've enabled our sales team to overcome objections and help prepare leads to become great clients. And they've made it easier for our client services team members to answer questions and pursue upsell opportunities.

What our blog posts hadn't always done very well, though, is consistently drive qualified organic search traffic to our website. This highlighted a blind spot in our content marketing strategy, and as more people turn to search engines for just about everything, we realized something had to change.

Identifying Organic Opportunity

About this time last year, our content marketing team was producing an average of 25-30 pieces of content each month. That included a blend of guest content contributed to various online publications, blog posts, and other projects, such as gated whitepapers and guides.

I would never say the effort and energy spent on these projects was a waste of time — as I noted earlier, this content did serve important purposes, and we never sacrificed quality in the name of quantity — but I also wouldn't say we were maximizing our content or our investment in it.

Make the most of your content investment. Download your customizable content marketing assessment template to make sure your content is working toward the right goal for your company.

So, we took a closer look at our goals as a marketing department and as a company, where we were spending our resources, and what might need to change so that our resources were better spent on the initiatives that most contributed to those goals.

Here's (a quick summary of) what we noticed:

  • Referral traffic was our largest source of sales in 2016.
  • That trend was not continuing into 2017.
  • Instead, organic search had emerged as our biggest sales source.
  • In fact, by summer 2017, sales from organic search had nearly tripled compared to sales from organic search during all of 2016.

If our goal was to generate qualified leads and new revenue for the company, and organic search was becoming one of our leading sources for achieving that goal, then our strategy needed to make organic search a bigger priority.

Updating your content marketing plan over time is much easier when it's already documented. Download your interactive content strategy checklist to build a plan that works for you and evolves as you do.

Tackling the Topic of SEO

Thankfully, just as we were planning to make changes to our content strategy to improve search performance, the fine folks over at HubSpot released some highly relevant content on the future of search.

According to HubSpot, SEO today is "shifting to a topic cluster model, where a single 'pillar' page acts as the main hub of content for an overarching topic and multiple content pages that are related to that same topic link back to the pillar page and to each other."

Cluster-model-1

(Image via HubSpot)

What does this look like in practice? Rather than write a bunch of blog posts that end up covering similar points — competing for traffic and ranking and cluttering your blog — this model encourages a more holistic view of how your content actually serves your audience and addresses its search queries.

Any good content creator knows that SEO via keyword stuffing is done, goodbye, nice knowin' ya. But just because you've stopped shoving the same keywords into your blog posts doesn't mean you've actually optimized your content or provided a good experience for your audience.

Optimizing your content for modern search engines and the audiences that use them means understanding the intent behind searches and using your content to address it better than anyone else.

5 Ways to Use Your Blog to Improve Search Performance

If boosting your visibility, increasing organic traffic to your blog, and turning search into a sustainable source of revenue are goals for your marketing team, here are five ways to use topic clusters to get started:

1. Identify and prioritize potential cluster topics.

First things first: Figure out what topics make the most sense for you. Try using the topic cluster image above as a jumping-off point to map out some rough ideas for topics, pillar pages, and related posts within your cluster.

From there, ask yourself:

  • Does this topic have a good search volume?
  • Is this topic one that your company is an expert in?
  • Do you already have content on this topic?
  • Where are the gaps in your coverage on the topic?

Your answers will help you determine whether a potential topic is a good fit and how to prioritize topics that do make the cut.

2. Audit your content and get organized.

Next, start going through your existing content and organize any posts you've published over the years that are relevant to the overarching topic you identified and prioritized in step one.

A simple Google Sheet with columns for a post's URL, the main topic it's part of, and what specific cluster topic it addresses is a fine start.

Seeing all your related content like this is helpful for two key reasons: It can show you whether there's an opportunity to turn an existing blog post into a pillar page, and it can show you specifically where any gaps are. This way, you're maximizing the value of all the content you've already created and spending your resources creating new content that's going to have the biggest impact.

And speaking of maximizing your content ...

3. Refresh old posts whenever possible before you create any new content.

This applies to all the existing content you've got within your topic cluster. Why start from zero when you can take an existing piece of content, freshen it up with new information, and add material where necessary to get it into shape?

Because your pillar page is the center of your topic cluster, start there. Remember, a pillar page is the main hub of information about your topic, so ask yourself what this existing post needs in order to serve that purpose. Is any data outdated? Have any new practices or trends emerged that a reader would need to know about? Can you make it more engaging with graphics or videos?

Once you've revamped and optimized the post you'll use as a pillar page, look to your related cluster topics and make sure you're not leaving any huge gaps in your coverage.

Your current posts likely won't cover every possible angle within your topic to complete your cluster, and that's fine. Right now, you just want to find and use the posts that do contribute to your cluster, and prioritize the creation of any posts that can fill in the blanks in the future.

4. Effectively link your resources together.

Part of what makes this model effective is how all the posts within it work together to address searcher intent and, as a result, give the collective cluster a boost.

How you build internal links to these posts determines how well they work together to answer questions and improve your ranking. Ensure all your posts within a topic cluster link to your pillar page and that your pillar page links to each post within the cluster.

This linking demonstrates to search engines that your pillar page is the authority on the topic it's covering, and it makes a user's experience with your content much easier and more intuitive because everything someone wants to know about this topic is accessible via your pillar.

5. Build relevant links to your topics via high-quality guest posts.

The final step in using your blog to improve organic search performance is to earn relevant links from diverse outside sources — and guest posting is a highly effective way to do that.

Contributing original content to the right online publications gives you the chance to share your expertise and engage a new audience. And when you include relevant links to high-value pillar pages, those guest contributions also give you the chance to improve your SEO.

Learn more about trends in contributed content and what publication editors are looking for by downloading your copy of  The State of Digital Media 2018."

To use guest posting to improve SEO, it's important to contribute original guest content to diverse publications that reach your audience. Diversifying your backlinks helps demonstrate your authority, which can give your topic cluster a boost.

And to increase your chances of acceptance at these diverse publications, remember that the links you include to your pillar pages should be relevant to the article you're contributing and add value to your readers' understanding of the piece.

Your blog is a versatile tool, and it's time to make it work harder for your SEO. These steps can help you begin implementing a content strategy that measurably improves your organic search performance and helps you reach your goals.

Download our guide to learn how to create a content strategy that is optimized for search:

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About Nickie Bartels

I love cloudy days, office supplies, and rewatching the same sitcoms I've already seen a dozen times. When I'm not looking for ways to elevate content, I'm looking for opportunities to tell stories about my dog.

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