SEO is Content Strategy: Lessons from Moz’s Whiteboard Fridays

Ironically, Rand leaving Moz┬áhas gotten me into watching his Whiteboard Fridays – a collection of 10-20 minute videos about SEO. I’ve said before that content strategy and SEO need to work hand in hand. Listening to Rand reinforces that need. Rand does a fantastic job of connecting SEO to its goals of inbound marketing and considering the audience’s needs. He is the type of SEO aficionado every content strategist should have the pleasure of working with.

an image of Rand Fishkin, host of Whiteboard Fridays (on SEO)
Rand Fishkin shares SEO brilliance at Moz’s Whiteboard Fridays

Why is SEO critical for content strategy?

SEO keyword research is a form of user research

The first step in SEO is identifying your keywords. For some SEO specialists, that means figuring out what keywords the company thinks are important. But Rand reminds us that keywords are really about the searcher, in his Whiteboard Friday “How to Kickstart an SEO Audit for Your Startup.”

“If you put your interest ahead of searcher’s interest, over time, someone else is going to take that traffic away from you and Google’s going to rank them first.” -Rand Fishkin

Just as user research helps us learn about our audience’s interests, keyword research is a way of learning about their goals, their needs, and how they think.

Keyword mapping is a way to brainstorm

Once you have SEO keywords identified, you need to map them to the pages on your site. If you have keywords that don’t connect to any of your pages, that is seen as a sign that you need to revise or create new pages.

As a content strategist it drives me crazy when someone tells me “we need to write about X for good SEO.” They’re typically looking for good rankings, rather than focusing on what our audience is looking for (see point #1 about searcher’s interest!). In addition, I’m against creating pages for the sake of creating pages.

However, when building out a user flow and identifying the right pages to bring the audience in, many organizations expect to their organic traffic to focus on their blog, news, or resources section. They may have an editorial calendar and be looking for ways to connect with the audience. From this perspective, keyword mapping isn’t about creating new pages. It’s about identifying the gaps in how you can connect with the audience. Yes, the end result (new pages) is the same, but the intention focuses more on the audience, and thus will result in better quality content.

Good SEO validates good content strategy

Google and other search engines want to get the searcher exactly what they were looking for. SEO best practices were developed as a way to inform content creators of what Google and search engines are looking for. In other words, SEO best practices work as a translator, helping content creators understand what their searchers are looking for.

When we forget that SEO should be based on audience needs (and instead focus only on rankings), SEO begins to feel counter to UX and content strategy best practices. But when we use SEO to remember to describe our pages, create headlines that are clear and descriptive, or describe images using alt-text, we are improving our content strategy, accessibility, and overall user experience.

SEO is worth the time and effort. It’s a valuable tool in the content strategist’s belt. You can use it to validate the audience’s mental model, resulting in a better content strategy.

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