- What's an SEO Content Strategy?
- 1. Keyword Research
- 2. Competitive Analysis
- 3. Content Audit
- 4. Content Planner
- 5. Final Thoughts
One of the most important steps in generating organic traffic to your site is creating content. If you want more traffic, you need more content. If you want to improve your traffic quality, you need to improve your content quality.
Let’s assume your site is technically sound and the user experience is decent. If your rankings are less than desirable, the likeliest of reasons is that you have no content, useless content, poor content, or harmful content (i.e., content that’s competing with or stealing from better content, dragging your rankings down).
So you need better content. But what’s “better,” exactly?
To create good content, you need a good content strategy. If you’re an SME (subject matter expert), then you know your audience and your subject matter. The key is to know how to connect the two in a way that Google recognizes (i.e., it matches the search intent) and outranks competitors claiming those coveted top positions.
Creating content just for the sake of creating content is not entirely bad. After all, any content is better than no content. Right? Well, as the hackneyed expression in SEO often goes, “It depends.”
Without a clear understanding of what you need (or, better said, what your users need) and how it fits into the rest of the picture, you may be shooting yourself in the foot and hurting your rankings — the opposite of what you want.
Creating content is essential, but a content plan will give your efforts the momentum to succeed that creating content blindly doesn’t offer.
It starts with performing some keyword research. But it’s more than knowing what topics to go after. You want to analyze the search results to see what Google thinks and who you will be up against. Once done, you will be in a position to determine what to write, how to write it, and how to optimize it.
For example, as part of the 360° SEO audit that I perform on websites, I conduct a content audit and create an SEO content strategy around my findings. The result may be one of five tactics:
- Creating missing content,
- Improving existing content,
- Deleting needless content,
- Merging competing content, and
- Consolidating unproductive content.
In this article, I’ll share what I do with my clients, explain what templates I use, and list a few tools that help me do this. (Read to the end, and I’ll share with you my templates that you can copy and use for yourself.)
Today, it takes more than knowing popular exact-matched keywords to rank, much less stuffing them into your content. In reality, doing so can do the opposite and hurt your rankings. Forcing nonsense into your content like “best facelift Ottawa price” will only make your content look robotic, idiotic, or both.
Google is more sophisticated than ever before, and it’s getting better at understanding how humans communicate. With the help of natural language processing (NLP), Google’s rapidly evolving artificial intelligence can derive greater meaning from online content. (By the same token, it’s also getting better at detecting manipulation.)
Now, keywords are still important.
But the keywords that search engines retrieve from a page do not directly influence how well that page will rank. Sure, they may hint at what the content is about. However, Google uses machine-learning processes and neural networks to recognize and understand more, such as context and meaning.
It subsequently uses additional signals and ranking factors to compare what it finds to other possible search results.
So the goal in doing keyword research is not to find words to stuff into your content. It may have been the way SEOs did it for a long time, but today it’s backwards. The goal of conducting keyword research is to discover:
- The topics your audience is searching for;
- The reasons for their search (search intent); and,
- The kinds of content they want, like, and prefer (format).
There are different ways to conduct keyword research. But here’s what I do. For me, the easiest way to determine the above (i.e., topic, intent, and format) is to look for evidence from what’s already out there. I start from an existing topic, idea, or result (let’s call it a “seed”), and I drill down further to find more clues.
Top copywriters know that the success of a marketing message hinges on adequately answering three simple questions:
- Who is your market?
- What is their problem?
- How do they talk about it?
SEO is no different.
The answers to those three questions will guide you the rest of the way.
You likely know your market. If you’ve been practicing, say, plastic surgery for a while, you probably know your market very well — including your market’s complaints and concerns. The next question is to uncover how they talk about them.
For instance, what do they search for? What questions do they ask? And at what stage of awareness are they? In other words, are they interested in knowing more about the problem? The possible solutions? One solution in particular? One provider of that solution in particular?
Again, this is not about knowing what keywords to target. It’s about knowing and understanding your market’s search patterns. There are ample SEO tools to help you do that. But the easiest way is to go to Google and type in the problem they’re experiencing, and you will be able to uncover three important clues:
- What users search for;
- What questions they ask; and,
- What results come up.
In other words, look at autocomplete search suggestions in the search field, or scroll to “related searches” at the end of the page. Next, look at “people also asked,” which offers clues as to their motivation. Finally, look at what kinds of results come up, what those results offer, and who provides those results.
With this approach, you start by finding keywords people use to find your competitors. I’m talking about your known or direct business competitors. For example, if you’re a plastic surgeon, it would be another plastic surgeon, a medical aesthetic clinic, or a non-surgical cosmetic service provider targeting the same audience you are.
Rather than starting with keywords stemming from your users’ problems, you start with your competitor’s website to get a list of all the keywords your competitor is ranking for. You can do this with multiple competitors, too.
There are plenty of SEO keyword tools out there that will give you a list of all the keywords a target domain or URL ranks for. My preferred one is Ahrefs, but you can use SEMrush, Moz, SEObility, SpyFu, WordStream, etc.
With Ahrefs, I enter the domain into its site explorer tool to see all its keywords. But I will also get other useful insights, such as their search volumes, the competitor’s ranking positions for those keywords, and other search engine results pages (SERPs) I can use to find additional competitors or keywords.
At this stage, the purpose is not to find keywords to focus on or to compete with. It’s to learn what people search for when they find your competitors and then see if those keywords make sense with your situation.
This leads me to the next step.
You now have a bunch of keywords. This next exercise will give you a good idea of which keywords to start with. The first step is to validate your findings to see which keywords you discovered are viable — because not all of them are.
The goal is to determine if the keyword is worth going after. In other words, you want to make sure that the content you will create to satisfy the search query is something you can and want to offer: a) it fits with what users are searching for, and b) it competes fairly with the results they get to choose from.
To help you, here’s a simple formula. Think of finding keywords that you can focus on as akin to a laser. “Laser” is an acronym to remind you that the query and the content you will address will fit within your:
They should fit within your target location, your ideal audience, the solutions you offer, your realm of expertise, and your ability to meet their needs.
For example, a keyword may be out of reach if the SERPs are highly competitive, dominated by sizeable competitors, or too dissimilar because the search intent is unclear. Take “facelift,” for instance. Results range from Wikipedia and WebMD to car dealerships and home renovators offering “facelifts.”
Ultimately, pick keywords that are worth focusing on.
Use those keywords to seed additional content ideas, related topics, questions to answer, and keyword variations. Look at what’s under “related searches,” “people also asked,” and “people also search for” (i.e., in Google’s right sidebar knowledge panel) when looking up your keyword.
Before going further, it’s important to make an inventory of the tentative keywords. With each, identify the target topic and search intent.
The topic is where I associate the keyword with its main or parent topic, which, in most cases, is the surgical procedure. For example, “how long does a nose job take to heal” is associated with “rhinoplasty.” The page discussing the procedure is a pillar page at the center of a topical cluster, if you will.
Then, I associate the stage of the user’s awareness to which the keyword aims to appeal. In marketing, they’re often called “awareness,” “interest,” “consideration,” “evaluation,” and “decision.” In plastic surgery, I often label them as “condition,” “treatment,” “cost,” “results,” and “location.”
Here’s what they mean:
- Condition: the problem they’re experiencing;
- Treatment: the product (or service) that solves it;
- Cost: the price or a price range for that solution;
- Results: the proof (e.g., patient photos or reviews);
- Location: the place, website, or contact information.
For example, with the earlier question, “how long does a nose job take to heal,” the intent is likely “treatment.” A person asking about the time it takes for a nose job to heal usually is searching for information about the procedure.
Here are some other examples:
|What causes stretch marks?||Abdominoplasty||Condition|
|Are breast implants safe?||Breast Augmentation||Treatment|
|How much does a facelift cost?||Rhytidectomy||Cost|
|micrograft before and after photos||Hair Transplantation||Results|
|Metropolis Plastic Surgery Clinic||Directions||Location|
Keep in mind that some of these keywords can also have different topics and intents. For example, “Dr. Joan Smith” may be about the doctor (i.e., information about this doctor’s treatment or results), or it may be about the location (i.e., information about this doctor’s location to find her clinic or website).
Another common multiple-intent query is when it combines a search like “best” (e.g., best treatment, top doctor, most natural results) or “cost” (e.g., price, cheapest, financing) with “near me” (or the location name). For example, “best hair transplant surgeon near me” or “cheapest lip filler clinic in Metropolis.”
Seeing the search results that Google serves up is a good indicator of the search intent and the competitors you will be up against.
This takes us to the next step.
Previously, I talked about using direct competitors as a starting point for doing keyword research. The goal is to uncover keywords and topics your competitors are ranking for, particularly those you are not ranking for, to give you some ideas for content to create with your SEO content strategy.
But in this step, the aim is to research your search competitors for those same keywords. They may or not be directly competing with you. Your biggest direct competitor may be outranked by a lesser one, too. You want to know who is outranking you, why they’re outranking you, and what topics they’re ranking for.
To accomplish this, you need to perform two types of competitive analyses: a SERP analysis and a gap analysis. Let’s take a look at each one.
It’s impossible to know exactly why competitors are ranking so well. After all, we don’t work at Google. Even with Google’s machine learning algorithms, including RankBrain (and now
Skynet, sorry, DeepRank), it’s nearly impossible for Google’s engineers to know with 100% precision why a site is ranking well, too.
But a competitive analysis, particularly a SERP analysis, can give you a ton of clues about what factors help them rank.
There are known ranking factors that Google has officially revealed. There are estimated ones that SEO experts have discovered, some of which Google has publicly confirmed. But many are unknown ones that Google prefers not to reveal, of course, to prevent zealous SEOs from cheating the system.
However, you can make some intelligent guesses by looking at the content from these top-ranking results. Search for any clues, commonalities, and other correlational factors between them. A SERP analysis aims to see what you need to have and/or do to compete with and outrank these top performers.
Granted, outranking your competitors is not an overnight process. SEO is a long game, and it takes time and work. But done strategically and effectively, your efforts can gain traction faster. If and when you do eventually outrank these competitors, the resulting traffic can be significant, too.
What is a SERP analysis?
By searching for a term or topic you wish to rank for, you can see what kinds of results come up, and you can analyze those results to find common themes, obvious factors, and not-so-obvious ones with a little reverse-engineering. Many tools help achieve this, but you can also do it manually.
For example, say you’re looking to rank for “best liposuction doctor in Houston.” When you search Google for this term — in a private browser window to avoid personalized results — and look at the top 10 results, ask yourself: what do they have in common? What stands out? What’s different?
For example, look at the quality of each top result:
- Is the content comprehensive, relevant, and helpful?
- Is it well-written, accurate, credible, and up to date?
- Was it written or reviewed by a medical professional?
- Are the authors obvious and their credentials included?
- Are referenced sources properly attributed and cited?
- Does the content contain any supporting visuals?
Then, look at the quality of the user experience:
- Is the site fast-loading, secure, and easy to navigate?
- Is it easy to read without distractions (e.g., ads or popups)?
- Is the design clean, modern, professional, and consistent?
- Does the page include relevant links to other pages or sites?
- Are the location details and contact information easy to find?
- Are there any usability aids like a TOC or breadcrumbs?
And finally, look at the quality of the signals to the above:
- A headline that’s conspicuous, relevant, and helpful.
- The number of words or minutes (i.e., content length).
- The number of paragraphs, chapters, or sections.
- The number of distinct headings and subheadings.
- The number of supporting visuals and any captions.
- The number of links to other pages or external sites.
- The number of keywords or topics in all of the above.
Keep in mind that they’re just examples and not comprehensive by any means. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to see how or why a given result is more appealing to a user. Short of hiring an outside SEO consultant to help you, ask a friend, a staff member, or a patient to tell you what they think.
Also, some signals are less obvious and more technical, such as site structure, internal links, HTML tags, schema markup, backlinks from authoritative sources, crawlability, etc. SEO audit tools can help, but a glance can provide you with some apparent clues nonetheless.
Performing a gap analysis is one of the most effective types of competitive research you can do for your SEO. It allows you to uncover gaps between you and your competitors, or gaps left by your competitors, that you can fill.
A gap analysis finds successful competitor keywords you lack, or it uncovers successful competitor content you can outdo (i.e., their content is outdated, incomplete, or poorly written). In other words, you want to find gaps you can fill that your competitors are ignoring or leaving behind.
Sometimes, you can fill gaps by creating new pieces of content or improving existing ones. A content audit will be helpful for this reason. (I’ll return to this.)
When I do a gap analysis for clients, I start by performing a competitive scan to create an inventory of their current top search competitors. I have three options with the keywords I found earlier: I can select them all, pick a few that have a decent search volume, or pick a few I know my client is already ranking for.
I then take those selected keywords and run them through a search. I copy the top 10 results for each keyword into a list. I might end up with hundreds of results. If I start with 50 keywords, for example, I will end up with 500 results.
However, not all the results that come up will be a LASER fit. So I either copy only the results that do fit, or I make sure to prune the list later.
Admittedly, this can become tedious.
I have done it more times than I care to count. Sometimes, I still do. But today, many SEO tools — like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz — can do this for you and save you a lot of time. Many of them have a gap analysis capability, too.
When I do it manually, I collect the numbers for each domain (i.e., number of visitors, keywords, and backlinks) and import them into a spreadsheet. It allows me to sort according to size and identify the winningest competitors with the most traffic, authority, and traction in the search engines.
From the remainder, I pick 10 of the most viable competitors. By “viable,” I mean domains (and not just the page that came up in the results) with a decent number of visitors, keywords, and backlinks.
As with the direct competitor earlier, I run each domain through an SEO tool to uncover all the other keywords they’re ranking for. I filter out any branded terms, such as keywords containing competitor names, trademarks, or locations. I also filter out anything obvious that’s doesn’t fit within my client’s LASER focus.
Finally, I combine all of the keywords into a list.
I group keywords according to ranking disparity:
- High-range keywords are those for which my client is not ranking at all.
- Mid-range consists of keywords for which my client is ranking but poorly.
- Low-range are those for which my client is ranking in the top 10 or 20.
Next, I determine the keyword’s potential (high search volume) and its difficulty level (low ranking barrier). Most SEO tools offer some keyword difficulty score. It varies from tool to tool, but it’s simply a gauge of the level of competitiveness of a keyword and the strength of those competitors.
The more competitive a keyword is, and the stronger and more authoritative the competitor, the greater the challenge it will be to rank for that keyword.
However, both disparity and difficulty can present some opportunities.
I might find a high-range keyword with potential. If the difficulty is low, it might be an easy gap to fill. Conversely, if there’s a low-range keyword but with a high difficulty score, it might still be worth going after — it depends on how low the range is and how much work is required to outrank these competitors.
Whether you choose to start with low-hanging fruits, remember that the greater the disparity and the higher the difficulty score, the harder it will be to rank. It’s not impossible, of course. But it may take a lot of work and time — not to mention perseverance in dealing with volatility and changes along the way.
This leads me to the next step, which is conducting a content audit.
It’s easy to assume that all you need is fresh content and good keywords for that content. But it may be wise to perform an SEO content audit first to see if there’s any existing content that can be updated, improved, consolidated, or amplified with a new focus or keyword.
It’s an opportunity to identify high-value content (i.e., content with traffic, backlinks, or conversions) and prune any deadweight pages that not only fail to offer any value but also may be hurting your overall rankings.
Google has confirmed that some SEO signals are page-specific while others are site-specific. Either one may affect the other. While Google did not specify which particular signals, many tests conclusively show that low-quality pages can lower the overall perception of a site’s quality and authority.
In short, one page can drag an entire site’s rankings down.
So if your plastic surgery site contains a bunch of your favourite recipes, and they provide no value or get little traffic, you might want to consider deleting those pages or repurposing them to a separate site.
By conducting an SEO content audit before you create a new content strategy, you can see what’s working, what to do with what’s not working, and what to include in your content plan. I call this process “assess, assign, and associate.”
- Assess the content’s search performance.
- Assign a value and action goal to the page.
- Associate relevant terms to specific pages.
First, a powerful SEO tool at your disposal is Google’s Search Console. It can provide you with an enormous amount of data and insights. If you haven’t set it up yet, do it now or have your team do it if they haven’t already.
With GSC, you can easily identify:
- Your most productive content on the search engine,
- The most common keywords users find you with,
- Your most linked content (both internal and external), and
- Any issues and manual penalties you need to address.
Within GSC’s “performance” section, select the timeframe. I typically use at least the last 12 months to account for seasonality, holidays, and trends. Then, export the results to a spreadsheet, which will contain multiple sheets.
The two important sheets are “pages” and “queries.”
“Pages” are the URLs that appeared in Google, and “queries” are the keywords that summoned them. Each sheet will contain the same metrics: the number of times it appeared (impressions), the number of times users visited the result (clicks), the clickthrough ratio (CTR), and the average position in the SERPs.
The goal of this next exercise is to create an action plan for your existing content. First, however, consider the following three important caveats:
- Duplicate URLs: If you see different URLs pointing to the same page, you will want to combine them, provided the content is unchanged. (If the content is different, leave them alone.) Combine the total impressions and clicks, and from those, recalculate the CTR.
- New pages: If you have recently published or significantly updated content, it might not have had enough time for Google to index it, much less send traffic to it. You might want to ignore anything new or updated in the last six months. Just mark these pages as “to skip.”
- Conflicting results: If you have pages that perform poorly in the search engines, have no backlinks, and get little traffic historically, but they do convert, the reason may be: tougher competition, wrong search intent, poor E-A-T signals (i.e., expertise, authority, and trust), lacklustre user experience, hidden technical issues, etc. Just mark these as “to review.”
Now that that’s out of the way, next is to look at what needs attention.
Start with the pages that have the least amount of impressions and clicks. Compare them against your analytics. Look at how much traffic they get, but you also might want to check their bounce rates, backlinks, and conversions — even social media shares. The metric you choose is up to you and your goals.
- If the value is negligible, then mark the page as “to delete and redirect.”
- If the value is acceptable, then look at the queries for this page:
- If the queries make sense (i.e., they fit within your LASER focus and have decent search volume), mark the page as “to revise.”
- If the queries don’t make sense, mark the page as “to reassign” (i.e., to give it a new topic or keyword focus) or “to combine” the page with another, depending on the topic and intent (see above).
- Finally, if the page has considerable value, mark it as “to review.”
Before going further, check to see if there are any pages with duplicate or competing content, such as two or more low-performing pages targeting the same or similar search terms. If so, they’re probably causing SEO signals to split and cannibalize each other’s rankings.
If both bring some value, mark these as “to combine.” It will consolidate both the content and their signals. But if one brings little to no value, mark it as “to delete and redirect,” and mark the other according to the above criteria.
Next, look at your top performers. If they have a high number of impressions or clicks, and the page is ranking well, then mark it as “to keep.”
But if there’s room for improvement (i.e., high impressions and clicks but low rankings), then mark it as “to review” or “to revise.” In other words, update the content, but consider other SEO factors, too — such as backlinks, E-A-T, user experience, search intent, etc. — that may need attention as well.
Ultimately, a high-performing page with thin, outdated, or unproductive content will benefit significantly from a content refresh and/or expansion. If it no longer fits within your LASER focus (you’ve since changed locations, for example), then mark them as “to revise” or “to combine” with another piece.
Here’s an example from personal experience.
My client is a hair transplant doctor. He has a page about an older hair grafting technique that’s now outdated, and he no longer performs it. However, the page is ranking well and still driving a lot of traffic.
To avoid risking the loss of traffic, we decided to keep the page, add content, and convert it into a review of the older procedure, which some competitors still perform. We also added why the latest techniques are better — with links pointing to the newer technique page to pass any link equity.
You now have an action plan on what to do with your existing content.
Starting with the “to reassign” pages, go back to your list of keywords from your initial research at the beginning. See if any of the viable keywords you’ve found can be associated with these pages. If not, decide on a new course of action.
With those marked “to revise,” you can choose to refresh and update the content. But with those pages to which you want to expand and add content, assign relevant keywords on which the expanded sections will focus.
For instance, if one of your chosen keywords happens to be a subtopic of a page slated for revision, append a new section to the page covering the subtopic. By making an existing topic more comprehensive, you increase engagement, SEO signals, and of course, keywords for that page.
However, if the search intent differs, it may be more effective as a distinct page. Or if the subtopic has enough value to be the main topic by itself, with a distinct cluster of subtopic pages that support it, assign a new page for it, too.
For example, one of my clients offers facelifts. The page about the procedure includes upper and lower facelifts. Research shows that “neck lifts” in his area is a popular search term for which the search competition is relatively weak. As such, we associate the term with a new but separate page.
With the remaining keywords, assign them to the new content you want to create. It’s the fourth and final step, which is SEO content planning.
This part is where you bring it all together.
When I create a content planner, I use an editorial calendar. It’s a spreadsheet template that allows me to create and oversee all the content assignments. At a glance, I can see the content in production, assess where they are in the production chain, and review the deliverables.
The people who can access and use the planner will depend on whether my client creates the content personally or not, or whether they create it internally by their staff or externally by outside writers. In other words, it depends on the level of control they wish to retain over the deliverables.
Here’s a look at a screenshot of one I’ve recently created for a plastic surgeon, where I obfuscated the links for obvious reasons:
The planner contains two key sections:
- The status of the assignment and
- Details about the deliverable.
The section at the beginning of the planner is about managing the assignment. The first columns are for the dates the content is due and to keep track of the status of the assignment, which consists of a series of 10 steps:
- Create the content brief.
- Assign the content brief.
- Write the content draft.
- Edit the content draft.
- Complete any revisions.
- Add images and styling.
- Perform an SEO review.
- Upload the content.
- Add any internal links.
- Promote the content.
The aim is to provide an at-a-glance look at what’s going on and the expected timeframe. Some doctors I work with publish new content quite frequently and from multiple sources. Therefore, this section is helpful to keep tabs on things.
The next section contains high-level content details.
It starts with information about the chosen keyword that the content will focus on, the keyword’s difficulty score, the potential monthly search volume, the main topic it falls under, and the search intent it will appeal to.
Then, there’s the content type and format. The format can be a written article, an audio or video recording, an image, a document, an app or interactive piece of content, or a combination of these (e.g., a video to embed on a page with a written transcript and commentary).
But the type of content to create, which is about its style and structure, is a matter of preference. However, as with the format, it should be based on the earlier competitive analyses. If all the top results seem to be listicles, creating one may be a good idea to meet the searchers’ needs.
Here’s a list with some examples:
- Case study: it’s a self-contained story of a patient’s journey, which may include the patient’s chief complaint, the doctor’s assessment, the procedure (some plastic surgeons will include photos or footage of the procedure with the patient’s consent), and how the results turned out (some surgeons will include patient testimonials).
- Comparison guide: it’s a comparative look at the pros and cons of two or more entities, such as different procedures, products, philosophies, tools, and so on. It might include a rating system to help the user in a decision.
- Expert guide: the most popular type and the one I most often assign, an expert guide is typically a long-form content piece on a specific topic. It may be a tutorial, a how-to guide, a demonstration, a checklist, or a content series. Essentially, any long-form content is an expert guide.
- Expert roundup: it’s a piece of content with insights from a list of chosen experts on the same topic. The style can vary, too (e.g., tips, ideas, reviews, or predictions, even short soundbites).
- Infographic: It’s an informative visual, with charts, icons, illustrations, graphs, statistics, diagrams, etc. It explains an important topic or provides a quick, easy-to-understand overview. The ideal purpose is to create share-worthy content, particularly on social media.
- Interview: it’s either a formal interview or a conversation piece between two or more people. It may include a series of questions and answers, a critique or hot seat, or an informal “fireside” chat. The author can be the guest or the host (i.e., the one asking or responding to questions).
- Landing page: it’s a page that’s intended to drive a specific action. Every page on the Internet is technically a landing page. But in this context, it’s a focused page intended to engage the user and drive a certain action.
- Listicle or list piece: it’s content structured as an itemized list, such as bullet-point content, checklists, countdowns, or roundups. You often see these as “top 10” lists, for example, such as “top 12 reasons to have lip injections” or “seven common types of breast implants.”
- Local lander: it’s a landing page but for local SEO purposes. It includes contact details, location information, even geocoordinates of the practice or clinic. It can be about a region, city, or street (such as “Harley Street” in London). It can also be for service areas or multiple offices — as long as each page is distinct and relevant to the user.
- Product or service: it’s a description of a product or service, and the style can vary greatly depending on the search intent. It might describe the procedure for informational purposes, a buying guide for investigational purposes, or an ecommerce store page for transactional purposes.
- Template or tool: it’s content that’s interactive to some degree. It can be a poll, survey, app, assessment, formula, diagram, form, calculator, etc. For example, a doctor offers before-and-after patient photos, as most plastic surgeons do. But hers are recorded with a 360° camera, allowing users to interact with the image and view them from different angles.
It’s worth noting that a piece of content doesn’t have to fall neatly into any of these content types. It can also be a combination of any of them.
The final section of the planner contains details about the content itself.
Each content assignment has a content brief, a tentative title, and an optional online editor or SEO template. It’s either a live document such as Google Docs or an online content editor that measures different SEO signals — such as the number of words, keywords, images, chapters, headings, and so on.
If my client uses WordPress, some SEO plugins like Rank Math and Yoast provide this functionality inside WordPress’s editor. I don’t follow these to the letter. But they’re useful guides and reminders of what to include. If they don’t have WordPress, there are several SEO writing tools available:
- TextOptimizer, an online tool that also has a Chrome extension.
- SEMrush’s SEO Writing Assistant, with a Google Docs add-on.
- SEOScout, which has an SEO Content Editor and Writing Assistant.
- WordCounter.io, a simple word counter tool with keyword analysis.
- Another one is WordLift.io, which also comes with a WordPress plugin.
There are also a few all-in-one SEO content tools that include everything from keyword research to competitive analyses to shareable online editors, like Clearscope, MarketMuse, Topic, Outranking.io, and my favourite, Surfer SEO.
(All the steps I described in this article are doable within SurferSEO, including competitive analyses. I’m an affiliate, but I use it a lot and recommend it.)
In any event, when I create a content planner for my client, they can share a link to the SEO content brief with their writer, whoever that may be. If they invest in an online editor such as Surfer SEO, they can send that link, too. Otherwise, once the draft is delivered, we run it through the SEO template for review.
I’ve included a blank template for you. It’s a Google Sheets document, but you will need to save a copy. I’ve included about 20 content assignments as dummy text to show you how it works.
One important point I need to stress.
Remember that today’s SEO is not about stuffing keywords into a document. It’s about providing the user with helpful, relevant, quality content.
Keep in mind that all these guides and templates are not hard rules etched in stone. Moreover, while they remain largely keyword-based, modern SEO writing tools incorporate the latest technologies such as NLP to understand the content better. They look for the meaning behind keywords and not the keywords alone.
Nevertheless, next is the last step: details of the content assignment.
The purpose of creating a content brief is to give your writer some instructions, resources, and guidelines to follow. It helps to speed up the process, reduce risks, minimize misunderstandings, and lower costs by saving on research time.
There are countless ways to create content briefs. Mine is only one of literally a billion results on Google. Also, I call it an “SEO content brief,” but it’s not about writing for the search engines. It’s always about writing for the user. Some SEOs prefer to call them “SEO-focused” content briefs for that reason.
Regardless, what follows is a template I use that’s similar to what other SEO experts use. But I modified it to fit my plastic surgery clients. Here’s a screenshot:
It contains two sections, similar to the content planner.
At the top, I highlight the due date, the target word count, and the website address. The latter may sound odd to you, but when you outsource 20, 50, even 100 pieces of content, some to the same writers, or some for clients with multiple websites, keeping track is challenging but important.
Before I go any further, here are a few important things to remember.
- So far, you researched your keywords and analyzed your competitors to see what works, what’s missing, and what gaps you can fill.
- Then, you validated the topics you want to target, defined the intent you’re going after, and confirmed the competition you’re up against.
- Also, you learned what appears to rank well and what the search engines are looking for to find any commonalities and clues.
All that information will come in handy at this point because each content brief will consider and incorporate much of these findings. For example, you will factor in the common number of words, headings, images, and other commonalities you uncovered during that research.
Consequently, when developing your instructions and content guidelines, you will need to refer to your earlier research to increase your chances of appealing to your users and competing for those top spots.
Now, here are the content brief’s details:
- Title Suggestion: When I create content briefs, I include a headline as an idea, but it may change depending on the final draft. Sometimes, after the writer does their own research, they come up with a different angle that warrants a more appropriate headline.
- Suggested Slug: I suggest a URL for the article, which may or may not include the main keyword. If the content strategy is part of an upcoming change in the content architecture, I provide a URL as a reference.
- Article Description: I give the writer a general idea of what the content is about, what it should say, and what it’s supposed to do. For example: “Create a 15-point listicle about the different questions the reader should ask their plastic surgeon about [procedure].”
- Target Audience: I describe the profile of the intended audience. For example: “Successful businesswomen or executives in their late 30s to mid-40s.” I may also include links to helpful references.
- Tone of Voice: I describe the content’s tone and brand voice, possibly with examples. For instance: “Use a conversational but professional tone.” “The author is a medical doctor with a unique approach to patient care.” “Avoid humour or any language that might seem offensive.”
- Main Topic: This is the general topic with a link to the parent page. For plastic surgeons, it’s typically the procedure (e.g., “blepharoplasty”). It can also be about the condition (e.g., “ptosis”) or body part (e.g., “eyelids”). It can also be about a topic cluster that encompasses related subtopics.
- Related Topics: I list other relevant topics to include and questions the content should answer. I refer to my earlier research where I got some ideas based on “seed” keywords and SERP analyses.
- Competition: I usually list select competitors from the top five to 10 search results for the main keyword, and I include their links, titles, SERP positions, and word counts. I also add anything specific worth looking into.
- Source Suggestions: I suggest resources as a starting point for their research. I also add any quotes, statistics, studies, or data to include (or to look for). I remind them to cite their references. I may also offer links to additional competitors or similar content I like as examples.
- Primary Keyword: This is the main keyword that the content will focus on.
- Other Keywords: I recommend additional keywords to consider, including synonyms, variations, or related words. I list at least five or more. I also suggest incorporating these in headings.
- Meta-Description: I ask the writer to compose a compelling description of 150-160 characters and incorporate the main keyword and, if possible, the main topic. Since this description will likely appear in search results, I point out that it should entice searchers to click but not use clickbait.
- Content Structure: I give the writer an idea of the structure, such as what to include in the introduction, the number of subheadings, a suggested content outline, anything that’s specifically important, and so on.
- Internal Links: I provide links to any internal pages I want to include. For example: “Insert a minimum of three links to [page] and [page].” I also suggest using keywords or topically related words as anchor texts.
- Keyword Placement: I guide the writer on incorporating the keywords into the content. For example, I might say: “include the main keyword in the introduction,” “create subheadings using secondary keywords if possible,” or “insert relevant keywords in image captions when appropriate.”
- Supporting Visuals: I specify to include a specific number of visuals with a brief description (50-125 characters) of each image, with appropriate keywords, which will become alternative texts.
- Guidelines: I cover important guidelines to follow. For example, “keep paragraphs short,” “start with a story,” “add calls to action,” “never force keywords into the content,” and so on. I want to be as specific as possible to avoid any surprises and unnecessary revisions.
- Comments: Any final comments or considerations the writer should know about, I add them here. It’s also an opportunity to mention what to avoid or watch out for, such as any sensitive issues, compliance information, even regulations to be aware of.
When the content brief is ready, upload it to your website, a cloud drive, or your preferred collaboration tool. Insert a link to it in the SEO content planner.
I included an SEO content brief template you can use. It’s a Google Doc, which you will need to save as a copy. Use it as a guide, and take whatever fits your goals, practice, and management style.
Any plastic surgeon who wants to improve their visibility and increase their rankings will need to create relevant, helpful, high-quality content.
However, knowing what content to create and what elements to include will gain more traction than otherwise. Moreover, learning what to avoid, reduce, or remove can be just as productive, if not more so — from bad-fit keywords and unfair competition to deadweight content that’s just bogging your site down.
In the end, one of the keys to improving your chances of winning at SEO is having a solid content strategy and making intelligent decisions. Some of those decisions come from researching what users want and how they want it. Others come from employing inductive reasoning in studying proven winners.
Finally, keep this in mind.
Creating an SEO content strategy is not some one-size-fits-all approach. You can follow the steps above and use the downloadable templates. However, remember that these are mine based on what I do, and they’re only guides to help you. Make them fit with your goals and approach.