One piece of content can’t meet all of your goals.
This may sound obvious, but sometimes marketers treat all of their content equally, which is a mistake. Each piece of content you create should have its own individualized expectations and goals.
My favorite framework to use when considering content strategy is to think of two buckets: “rank-worthy” content and “link-worthy” content.
To illustrate these two types and why they’re effective, I’m going to pull examples from work we’ve done for CollegeFinance.com. Since starting our engagement with them about a year ago, here is the traffic increase they’ve seen:
But, I won’t just show examples; I’ll also provide actionable tips on how you can execute this strategy yourself. Let’s dive in.
Rank-worthy content is essentially content that has the goal of ranking well in the search engine result pages (SERPs).
Most content marketers and SEOs want their pages to rank in Google and other search engines in order to build organic traffic to their websites. However, it’s more nuanced than that.
Rank-worthy content often does bring in more organic traffic to your site, but it’s also crucial in establishing both brand awareness and brand authority.
For example, look at this featured snippet we earned for College Finance. Even if a searcher’s question is answered in the snippet and this becomes a no-click search, the searcher can still see that College Finance has the “best” answer, at least according to Google, which not only gets the brand name out there but also builds a sense of trust.
In essence, a rank-worthy content strategy is really a strategy to building brand awareness, brand authority and organic traffic.
If you don’t have content on your site that ranks, it’s much less likely your brand will grow organically, because it’ll be difficult for potential clients and customers to find you in the first place, let alone trust you.
Creating a rank-worthy content strategy. So how do you create content that Google deems “best”?
The key is focusing on intent, which I firmly believe needs to be every marketer’s obsession. Intent refers to understanding the reason why someone is searching online for something.
If you’re able to figure out exactly what they’re looking for and can create that resource, that’s the sure-fire way to create value, and Google is likely to pick up on that.
So many guides have come out about optimizing your content to improve the chances you’ll rank well, and there’s certainly merit to a lot of them. But, I’d argue that intent should always be your main consideration because, ultimately, Google’s algorithm is designed to help people find what they’re looking for.
The pell grant refund piece I reference above is a great example of this. Tons of people have said longer content is better for ranking, and tons of guides exist that are thousands of words long. However, this one is only about 900, and it’s ranking No. 1 for “pell grant refund.”
Why? Because it efficiently answers the questions people are searching. It’s meeting the intent.
However, it’s not just the intent of searchers — it’s also the intent of your own marketing department that’s important. The content strategy sweet spot is finding the overlap between your own goals and the goals of your target audience.
I recommend writing down top-level goals for a piece as well as related secondary goals in order to keep yourself organized. In this example, it would look like this:
- Primary goal: Create a piece of awareness content that answers our target audience’s questions about unused pell grants.
- Secondary goals: Earn a featured snippet to elevate brand exposure and SERP positioning.
You can refine your own goals by considering whether you’re appealing to top-, middle-, or bottom-of-the-funnel searchers and what actions you’d like them to take once they arrive at your site.
If you’re creating all this excellent rank-worthy content, why bother with anything else?
Well, because backlinks remain a vitally important ranking factor. They’re also incredibly hard to earn, so a strategy dedicated to building high-quality links is crucial for scaling growth.
Link-worthy content is content designed to earn backlinks because it’s highly engaging and widely appealing.
Our link-worthy content strategy is creating original research and then implementing an earned media approach by pitching our content to publishers.
This is what happened when we used this strategy with College Finance:
By creating new studies and surveys and earning media coverage, you’re building authoritative links and yet again improving your brand awareness and authority.
Note that this isn’t always going to be content that ranks really well for you in the SERPs, which is exactly why having both a rank-worthy and link-worthy content strategy is such a winning combination.
Creating a link-worthy content strategy. Publishers only care about what’s newsworthy, but most brands don’t have an entire news staff on standby.
The way to create newsworthy content is to consider what new data sets you can collect or analyze that are relevant to your industry and could unearth fresh and (hopefully) fascinating insights.
You can approach ideation from many different angles. Try any/all of the following:
- Identify the publishers you’d love to be featured on and see what type of content they like to write about.
- Brainstorm if you have any internal data that would be useful or interesting to a greater audience, as this is inherently exclusive information.
- Search for publicly available data sets and consider how they can be analyzed in new ways.
- Consider questions or conversations happening in your industry and think about how you can contribute or provide new insight.
- Write down questions you’ve always had about your niche and brainstorm ways to answer them.
- Think about the emotions associated with your industry and what can be explored in more detail.
Let’s look at an example of how we did this for College Finance. For one project, our approach was to “consider questions and conversations happening in your industry.” In 2020, many students had justified concern about paying for college.
We didn’t necessarily have the solution to this problem, but we did wonder: Just how many people felt the stress of this situation? So, we decided to survey more than 1,000 college students to ask.
In doing so, we were adding context to a conversation, which made it much more likely it would be included in a story, just like it was included in this Fox Business article.
Once you have great content created, the key is pitching it to writers who publish a lot of content and who write about the very specific beat your information belongs to.
In your pitch email, personalize it (you’re talking to a human being, after all), and then succinctly explain exactly why their audience would be interested in your project.
Tying it all together
When you build links using link-worthy content, you’re getting more brand recognition and improving the authority of your website.
When well-respected sites link to you, it signals to Google and other search engines that your content is high-quality and can be trusted, which is why it’s so important to invest in earning quality media coverage. Once many authoritative sites have linked to you, it’s much more likely Google will consider your brand an expert in your space.
And, when you’re considered to be an expert, that elevates all other content on your website, increasing the likelihood it’ll rank better in the SERPs.
This is why our philosophy on building traffic is to add backlinks to improve your overall SEO, which then uplifts everything on your website.
Think about it: If someone sees your brand has been mentioned on NBC News, USA Today, The Washington Post or other top publications, they’re probably more likely to click on your search result over lesser-known competitors. And, if they stick around and get value, that can signal to search engines that your content is exactly what they were looking for.
By focusing on both of these content buckets that complement each other, you can create an inbound marketing strategy that continues to strengthen over time and dramatically improve your organic growth.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.