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How to Optimize Content for SEO: 8 Rules of the Road

Date published: November 02, 2022
Last updated: November 2, 2022

As more and more people join the ranks of those currently using their smartphones to complete secure business transactions, it's become increasingly vital to get with the content marketing trend. So yes, it's critical that you create high-quality, reliable content specific to your niche. However, if you don't know how to optimize content for SEO, all the great content in the world is unlikely to boost your online visibility.

There is both an art and a science to creating helpful content while balancing that against remembering how to optimize content for SEO even as it is being produced. Today there are plenty of diagnostic tools to help you grasp the basics, such as Yoast SEO. But there's much more to it than just the effective use of tools.

For example, you might use Google Docs and Grammarly to put a spit shine on your writing, but you're going to need more than that. Being talented in one area of SEO is great, but to get a boost in search engine results pages (SERPs), you will need to be highly skilled in other areas. Someone highly adept in only one area is roughly analogous to someone who only knows how to change a flat tire thinking they are a certified car mechanic.

Great Content Fuels SEO-Powered Sales

Well-planned and executed content contributes powerfully to your overall SEO strategy. Learning how to optimize content for SEO makes your website content more readable and enjoyable to consume overall. It also helps readers and search engines understand what you've posted.

There are many simple ways to optimize content for SEO. Below are eight industry practices you can use to help you get started. Think of them as checkboxes that must be ticked, such as including onsite and offsite links, using the right keywords to help you optimize your onsite content, and ensuring you are addressing issues about which people care.

Before you start learning how to how to optimize content for SEO, it will help immensely to put together what experts refer to as a client creative brief. A client creative brief is nothing more than a rough outline of what you hope to achieve. Think of it as a blueprint containing project details, both short-term and long-term objectives, and what you need to get from here to there.

If you are not planning to outsource your SEO project to an agency, you should nonetheless put your ​​client creative brief together. Feel free to modify your brief as your project progresses, but don’t dive in without a roadmap. Getting lost and muddled in strengthening your domain authority and showing up prominently in search engines is too easy.

How to Optimize Content for SEO

1. Use heading tags.

If you are coding your written content by hand, you already know that H1, H2, H3, and H4 tags provide readers with a taxonomy of information. H1 is the coding equivalent that signals Header 1, H2 signals Header 2, and so on. These tags help provide a helpful taxonomy of data for the human eye and for the search engine "spiders" that repeatedly crawl your website, digesting your information.

Nowadays, though, no one needs to learn to code HTML to generate these codes.

WordPress, for example, does this automatically, behind the scenes. Writers leverage a user-friendly interface to raise and lower the status of their headings, subheads, bulleted lists, and more. Once the content has been published or updated, search engines use these automatically inserted tags to answer one straightforward question: "What is this piece about?"

If you publish content without providing these distinctions, it quickly becomes monotonous. Human readers and search engines alike see what you've written as one big, long, perhaps sleep-inducing blob of text. Human beings will quickly bounce as they can't scan your content. A huge part of learning how to optimize content for SEO is making effective use of hierarchical elements, especially heading tags.

2. Include internal links.

An internal link is a hyperlink inserted into your text that links to additional content on the same site. This link should be germane to the topic as you’ve rendered it in the text and images. An internal link communicates an expectation in the mind of a human reader, something along the lines of "there’s more to learn about that subject if I want it."

When you interlink the content on your site, it signals to search engines that you are an expert on specific topics. It creates a web of authority that strengthens the value of your domain. Links should tell readers you know a great deal about a particular niche. If you have great information about a certain topic, this fact will become immediately apparent to readers and search engines. Therefore, pick your links and keywords with the utmost care.

3. Add value with external links.

Avoid trying to be an expert in everything. No one can do this. Better by far to recognize where your expertise ends, and the expertise of another begins. When you hit that boundary in your online content, insert external links to high-authority, helpful content on external websites.

Keep in mind that your site's authority is at stake as you choose the external sites to which you plan to link. Let’s face it; you can probably find something on the internet to back up just about anything you write, no matter how ridiculous (or worse, untruthful). Consequently, it’s critical that you use domain authority tools such as Moz to make sure you are only linking out to high-quality, reliable information. Your reputation is on the line here!

One of the best uses of external linking is to help your readers access information to back up your statements with statistics, charts, and data. When you use external linking to educate and inform your readers, you send a signal to search engines that you are a reliable source. This helpfulness, too, will contribute to helping your site rise in popularity and SERPs.

4. Do your keyword research.

Perhaps the most labor-intensive task in constructing an effective content marketing campaign is not (as many might guess) producing the content itself. That’s a crucial piece of the puzzle, obviously. However, before generating the content, you want to be locked in on your target keywords. Making sure you’ve selected the right keywords will pay off handsomely when you begin the content development phase.

Experts recommend choosing longer-tail keywords that bypass the more obvious choices if you don’t quite have the authority you need for those more difficult keywords. If your onsite content is solid and optimized to a longer-tail keyword, you’re more likely to rise in SERPs specific to your service area and area of expertise. You will want to optimize as much of your content around those longer-tail keywords as possible. You will want to steer clear of what’s known as "keyword stuffing" and opt instead for related keywords only as necessary.

5. Work to match the search intent of your intended audience.

Have you ever experienced an internet "Gotcha!" moment? Did you click on a link expecting one type of content…only to land on a site that has nothing to do with your intended purpose? Chances are better than even that this misdirection was intentional, the result of manipulating keywords and SERPs to nefarious ends. No one likes misleading links. In all likelihood, you bounced from the site immediately. You should expect the same treatment if your chosen keyword in any way defeats user expectations.

Treat your internet audience with respect. Ensure the content you create matches the search intent for your selected keyword.

For example, an educational blog might be best for a keyword if the purpose is primarily informational. A well-built product or service page may be best if the user's intent is commercial. When you work to consistently meet (or exceed) the expectations of search intent, your users are far more likely to reward you with repeat visits.

6. Be sure to include an intuitive URL and meta description.

Believe it or not, many users still scan the entire URL displayed in the dialog box of their web browser of choice. Set up your site's hierarchy and posts to provide a logical "trail" for your users. This practice reinforces the web of authority around the topic or theme and (let’s face it) is much easier on the eye. Which of the two URLs makes the most sense to you? Perhaps more significantly, which URL are you more likely to copy and text to a friend or family member?


When you begin building links, remember that brevity is the soul of wit. Keep the slug for every page and post as short as possible yet meaningful to human readers. Four to five words are optimal. This will not always be possible for every site. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to implement it whenever and wherever possible.

Similarly, every piece of content you post should include a META description. These descriptions offer search engine spiders a concise overview of the subject matter of your content. Your online content will begin to show up in its niche when your URL, META, and keyword work in unison.

7. Use titles and descriptive ALT text for images.

Making your content available and accessible to the broadest possible audience makes good business sense…and it’s the right thing to do. In the U.S., for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. Yet, even today, many websites implement ALT tags and descriptive language as an afterthought. Sadly, many still ignore these online content attributes altogether.

Search engines, however, have brought commerce to bear on this issue. Many sites to this day consistently lack ALT tags for images. Other portions of the site are inaccessible to adaptive computing equipment. Consequently, those sites are likely to get dinged for it. Today, search engines more or less serve to police the ADA by lowering site rankings and domain authority.

When including ALT tags, use your selected keyword where it makes sense. Again, don’t try to "stuff" keywords into your ALT tags and other hidden fields. Search engines long ago figured that one out. As stated above, attempts at deception will get you dinged. Plenty of online testing tools are available if you’re wondering how your site scores for adaptability. "Listening" to your website content through a screen reader can also prove an enlightening experience.

8. Write for the reader.

At this point, you might well be wondering if you should be writing content for Google or your intended audience. Well…can it be both? If you are doing your job well, your ranking on SERPs will go up if you keep an eye on your customers and search engines. However, if you must fall off the fence one way or the other, fall in favor of your readers.

Over time, as more users begin taking in and backlinking to your site, the usefulness of your content will become apparent, even if you don’t tailor absolutely everything to please the almighty algorithms.

As you write, produce photos, and develop your content, keep the reader foremost in your thinking. Imagine yourself in the position of someone trying to learn more, solve a problem, or find information. As your audience validates your usefulness through repeated clicks and more extended amounts of time spent on the site, your commitment to reader service can only contribute to greater domain authority and positioning on SERPs.

"Cabbie, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" Practice, practice, practice!

That corny old joke has become a cliche and stuck around in the collective unconscious for a reason. It points to an enduring truth. You're unlikely to achieve perfection whenever you take your first shot at anything. Whether playing the violin or optimizing content around a longer-tail keyword, you will need to keep at it until it becomes second nature.

Don’t despair if your initial efforts at optimizing content to your niche are less than stellar. That’s completely normal. You need to keep spinning so many plates that it can initially feel overwhelming. Use the guidelines above, refer back to them often as you develop your content, and keep at it!

Even if you plan to staff up in-house, you may need to engage the services of a professional SEO agency on the front end. If you find that you do need help, consider reaching out to one of our sales associates for a no-cost consultation. At Relevance, we eat and sleep SEO, but then we are quick to admit that we’re a bit odd that way.

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