How to Create an Effective SEO Content Strategy in 11 Steps

Many marketers are finally catching up to the fact that SEO no longer revolves around keywords. 

Today, search engines like Google and Bing are so sophisticated they now look beyond words to understand the needs, and expectations behind queries and so rank websites that create content to best fulfill those needs.

In this way, building your SEO content strategy around a set of keywords without regard to the needs of users and the relevance of your content to those needs is both futile and wrong.

A good SEO content strategy focuses on achieving topical authority within a specific industry. Doing so will establish trust with the search engine so they begin to see your site as the go-to resource for searches in your niche.

That way, you’ll earn more organic traffic and generate business from search (which ultimately is the purpose of doing SEO).

This post will cover the foundations of any effective SEO content strategy and how to create a winning strategy for your business in 2024 and beyond. Feel free to jump to specific sections with this list.

What Is an SEO Content Strategy?

The Five Core Pillars of An Effective SEO Content Strategy

1. Technical SEO

2. In-depth Understanding of Your Audience and Their Needs

3. E-E-A-T Content

4.  On-Page SEO

5. Authority Building

11 Steps to Create an SEO Content Strategy

1. Start With Goal Setting

2. Research Your Competitors

3. Run an SEO Audit

4. Define Your Core Topic

5. Expand Your Core Topics Into Content Clusters

6. Research Keywords and Their User Intent

7. Build Your Topic and Cluster Structure

8. Plan Content Production

9. Implement On-Page SEO Techniques

10. Support Your Efforts With Off-Page SEO

11. Track Your Content Performance

Position Your Business for SEO Success

What Is an SEO Content Strategy?

An SEO content strategy is your plan to produce, optimize, and promote relevant content to improve its performance in search engine results, attract relevant traffic to your website, and assist you in achieving your business goals.

The Five Core Pillars of An Effective SEO Content Strategy 

If you’re new to SEO, creating a content strategy may seem complicated. There’s so much information it’s easy to get lost in the noise, spending significant time and resources with minimal results.

However, SEO content strategy isn’t rocket science. All you need is a solid understanding of the essentials. That understanding will guide you in fleshing out a strategy that’ll increase your visibility and drive results. 

Here are five pillars that underpin any successful SEO content strategy.

1. Technical SEO

Technical SEO involves improving a site’s architecture and backend elements to remove friction points that might hinder its visibility and performance on search. It generally addresses issues like speed, mobile optimization, security, broken links, etc, that affect the search engine’s ability to crawl, index, and render your website. 

Good technical SEO lays the groundwork for the success of your content strategy. If your site is not technically sound, all other SEO efforts will be futile. This means accessing your site’s health and fixing significant technical issues are the first steps to take when thinking about SEO. 

In a nutshell, you want to make sure Google can:

  • Crawl your site, access its content, and gather information about your pages.
  • Index your content by adding it to its database to be considered for ranking.
  • Render your page that is, interpret the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code on your site and display it to searchers in the interactive format they see on their device. 

Much of this will be handled by the content management system you use or a technical SEO specialist. However, understand that your content strategy will bear little to no results if the website is not technically sound. 

For a deep dive into technical SEO works and what it entails, read this guide from Search Engine Land.

2. In-depth Understanding of Your Audience and Their Needs 

Good SEO focuses on the user and their intent. Without knowing your audience, their needs, interests, pain points, and expected solutions, it’s impossible to produce helpful content that’ll position you as authoritative and deliver positive SEO results. 

You can discover and understand your audience in different ways, including:

  • Digging into internal data from existing customers. Customer insights from web, social analytics tools, CRMs, and past campaigns can clue you in on who your SEO target audience is, including the content that might be appealing to them.
  • Gathering feedback from customer-facing teams like sales, support and product teams to learn about actual customer needs and challenges.
  • Researching your competitors’ audience across different channels to spot areas of satisfaction and displeasure you may be able to cover.
  • Hanging out in Slack channels, Twitter/Reddit threads, Discord groups, and other forums/communities your audience frequents. 
  • Reading online reviews to discover the solutions your audience is looking for in products/services and what works/doesn’t work for them.
  • Checking the comments on social media posts and blogs for insights on customer needs, and expectations.

3. E-E-A-T Content

Once you’ve catered to the technical aspects of your site and figured out the needs of your audience, you need content, really good content that serves users and search engines. 

According to Google’s search quality rater guideline, your content must demonstrate Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) to rank in Google’s SERPs. 

E-E-A-T content is content that supports the person behind a query by  

  • empathizing with their pain,
  • helping them achieve the objectives they’re seeking and 
  • offering an appropriate next step based on their intent. 

Demonstrating E-E-A-T in your content will not only help you rank higher, but it will also net you more customers. And it’s reasonable; after all, searchers are looking for helpful, relevant information that solves their problem.

4.  On-Page SEO

On-page SEO involves optimizing your website’s structure and content pages for search engines and users. It starts with structuring your site in a logical manner that helps Google understand the importance of every page. Then, it extends to improving the elements of individual pages to enhance their search visibility and ranking. 

Some on-page SEO elements include:

  • Relevant content that matches user intent
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Using markup
  • Page load speed
  • Optimized URL structure
  • Optimized metadata
  • Proper use of internal links

Good on-page SEO helps search engines understand what your content is about so they can serve it for the searches it is relevant to. 

There are plenty of SEO optimization tools that can help assess your pages to make sure they’re well-positioned for ranking.

5. Authority Building

When all is said and done, ranking comes down to one thing: “Who is the most authoritative on the subject.” It’s the websites Google perceives as authoritative that rank in the top positions. 

In the past, authority building was synonymous with link building. But today, this concept has developed to mean gaining credibility and trust in the eyes of the search engine and its users. 

You’ll build authority in search by consistently producing valuable content materials that demonstrate E-E-A-T on all the subjects important to your businesses and audience. And when you support that valuable content with relevant backlinks from credible sources, you’ll be on your way to ranking well.

11 Steps to Create an SEO Content Strategy 

Now you’ve seen the pillars that support a good strategy; it’s time to do the work. 

Here’s an 11-step process for building an effective SEO content strategy. This process will help you establish authority in your niche, reach more users, and turn them into customers.

1. Start With Goal Setting

There’s a reason you want to create an SEO strategy. 

It could be that your competitors are outranking you, so you need to beat them. Or, you want to achieve an objective, such as increasing organic revenue by a certain percentage over a given period. 

The end outcome you aim to achieve by doing SEO constitutes your goal. And outlining it before getting your feet wet will bring clarity to your strategy and give you a clear sense of how to focus your effort.

Your SEO goal should align closely with and contribute to the overall business goals. That means your goal must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based (S.M.A.R.T), not vague or arbitrary. 

Each goal you set must be accompanied by the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you would use to gauge your success or failure and measure performance.

For example, a smart SEO goal could be to “rank in the top 5 positions for (core topic) within 9 months”. And your KPIs for this goal could be “position rankings,” “organic impressions,” and “traffic.” 

Because KPIs are specific to every business, the right one to track will vary depending on your goal and strategy. However, here are some important KPIs SEOs usually track:

  • Organic traffic (of course!)
  • Organic impressions
  • Session durations
  • Keyword rankings
  • Backlinks
  • Domain Authority
  • Click through rates

Business and Analytics platform, Databox covers 49 essential SEO KPIs you should keep an eye on in this post.

2. Research Your Competitors

Taking the time to research your SEO competitors allows you to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses and use those insights to inform your strategy. 

From competitive analysis, you can find relevant content and backlink gaps and make a plan to cover them with your strategy. 

In addition to that, SEO competitive analysis helps you discover:

  • What works and doesn’t work in your industry before getting into the weeds and making mistakes
  • How difficult it would be to outperform your competitors and
  • The SEO tasks to prioritize for greater impact.

You can start researching your competitors by searching your core topic on Google and noting the domains ranking in the top positions.

Competitive analysis is beyond the scope of this article, but this guide from Moz details how to analyze your SEO competitors and apply the insights to your strategy.

3. Run an SEO Audit

Now you’ve laid out your goals and analyzed the sites you’re up against, get your strategy off the ground by running an SEO audit. This audit is two-phased:

  • Technical audit to discover and fix any issues that can sabotage your website’s accessibility and performance on the SERPs. By this, we mean page speed lag, crawl errors, broken links, mobile responsiveness, etc.
  • Content audit to access the performance of existing content and gain insights for your strategy.

A content audit at the start of a new strategy helps you uncover low-performing content stifling your growth. From there, you can make a plan to remove, redirect, or refresh the content to improve your search performance. 

Audits also unveil opportunities for improvement and expansion through new content. These insights will come in handy as you build content clusters and develop your editorial calendar.

To learn more about auditing content for SEO, read our content audit guide

4. Define Your Core Topic

Your core topic is the central theme you want to build topical authority on. It is your area of expertise where you can easily provide useful, unique content that’ll establish you as a thought leader. This core topic will direct your research for content ideas and keywords that’ll be relevant to your audience.  

Depending on your business, it’s possible to have multiple core topics. You can define them using an entity-based SEO tool that performs topic extraction. Or by brainstorming the concepts you regularly talk about in your content. 

In this case, let’s see how it works using InLink’s entity-based content planning tool.

To start, create a new project in InLinks, add your domain URL and target market, and hit Next. 

Then, load your content pages into InLinks and wait a few minutes for the Natural Language Processing algorithm to analyze your content and extract the main topics your website is all about.

Once the analysis is complete, InLinks will reduce your content pages into a list of the essential topics, also called entities, that you need to build authority on.

Navigate to “Content Planner” from the left navigation menu to view the topics. 

For this example, let’s look at the core topics the tool has defined for InLinks, an SEO software business. 

As you can see above, the content planner has identified the concepts of  SEO, content, internal linking, knowledge graphs, and others. Indeed, these are the topics InLinks’ SEO strategy focuses on to build authority and drive SEO results. 

These core topics will become your content pillars or pillar pages. They should be specific and focus on a single concept. But, they should also be broad enough to not limit the amount of content ideas you can explore.

Once you’ve identified the core topics, start expanding them into smaller groups of problem-solving subtopics (called content clusters) your audience wants to read and learn from.

5. Expand Your Core Topics Into Content Clusters

Content clusters are groups of interlinked web pages around your core topics. They are the subtopics you need to cover to cement your authority in your industry.

These content clusters are essential because they demonstrate your knowledge of each topic and help the search engines understand the hierarchy of your site. Content clusters should be semantically relevant to your core topics. They should also be related to each other so you can connect them with contextually relevant internal links

To build content clusters, start brainstorming content ideas around your core topic. For example, for the topic “internal linking,” clusters can be “internal linking structure” or “internal linking opportunities.” The idea is to think in terms of topics, not keywords.

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, go back into InLinks and look again at the Content Planner tool. 

When analyzing a website for entities, InLinks’ NLP algorithm takes into account the existing content and then uses its world-class knowledge graph to find semantically relevant topics and subtopics that are missing from the site. 

Clicking a core topic on your screen will reveal a list of potential subtopics. You’ll also see the number of keywords associated with that subtopic and their volume. 

Now, because InLinks has read and understood your website, it’ll show you a priority level for each subtopic to give you a sense of what to focus on for the best results. 

  • Anything in blue signifies a subtopic you do not have content on
  • Green signifies subtopics already having some content
  • High means high priority 
  • Med means medium priority.

This means you should focus on high-priority clusters in blue as they’ll drive the most impact for your SEO strategy.

The subtopic ideas InLinks provides will get your creative juices flowing. As you look and think through them, focus on those that have the potential to unlock other supporting subtopics. The reason is- very narrow topics may limit your choice of keywords while very broad topics may include too many unrelated terms. 

Once you’ve identified the topic clusters you want to focus on, it’s time to perform keyword research.

6. Research Keywords and Their User Intent

You now have an idea of the content to prioritize for your strategy, so let’s dig a little deeper to uncover the terms that’ll direct users to your content.

Keyword research will help you find important questions your audience is asking. It’ll also help you figure out the best content format for each piece in your cluster. While researching keywords, pay attention to their intent. Understanding the intent of each query will guide you to create content that meets the searcher’s expectations.

Start your keyword research in InLinks by clicking on a cluster topic. It’ll open a panel on the right side with real-time keywords and questions pulled directly from Google Suggest and tailored to your website.

Instead of a large list of irrelevant and repetitive phrases, InLinks will show you the top semantically relevant queries people are typing into Google.

For example, in the screenshot above, you’ll notice that the queries “importance of internal link optimization” and “how does internal linking help SEO” are very much relevant to the topic “internal linking optimization” (true at the time of this writing). 

As you research keywords for each cluster, take note of the questions in the Question Tab, as most of them trigger Featured Snippets at the top of the SERPs. 

Chima Mmeje, Senior content marketing manager at Moz, recommends structuring your content to target featured snippets by answering questions directly and in a format Google can easily parse.

As you run the keyword research, InLinks will show you the exact expectations your audience has when searching for any topic in your cluster. Just click the User Intent Tab next to Keyword Research on your screen. 

InLinks disambiguates user intent with verbs to define the exact information a person is hoping to get out of their search. With this, you can plan and write content that is relevant and useful to them.

7. Build Your Topic and Cluster Structure

The topic cluster structure consists of three parts:

  • Pillar page (your core topic)
  • Topic clusters (related subtopics)
  • Internal links (that tie everything together)

After your keyword research, organize what your topic cluster will look like. The pillar page should link to all cluster pages, and the clusters should link back to the pillar page. Clusters can also link to themselves where necessary.

This structure creates an organized site hierarchy, which helps Google discover and better understand your content. It also gives you a high-level view of all the content assets you need to produce to demonstrate expertise in a particular area. 

At this stage, you can bring in the content ideas you discovered during competitive analysis and content audit to see how they fit into your clusters.

A tip we follow here at InLinks is to focus on one topic cluster at a time. It’ll help organize your content production process and enable you interlink articles without confusion.

👀👀 Pro Tip → InLinks internal linking tool can automate internal linking between your pillar and cluster pages as you produce content. Learn how it works here.

8. Plan Content Production

It’s time to plan the content rollout. Bill Guale, the SEO strategist at Contact Studios, recommends starting from the bottom up by prioritizing bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) topics and keywords. 

He says –

Generally, I always prioritize high-intent BOFU topics and keywords in my SEO strategy. This is some variation of competitor alternatives, competitor comparisons, product list posts, and how-to posts, as this content is more likely to deliver results quickly. However, depending on the site, there may also be room for TOFU content at the start.

To aid the content planning, use an editorial calendar. It’ll help you stay consistent with production, track your performance, and streamline your process.

Whether you’re creating the content yourself or outsourcing to an SEO writing service, ensure to create detailed content briefs and write your content based on them. Briefs help ensure the content stays on-brand, reflects your expertise, and meets SEO requirements. 

To learn how to create effective SEO briefs, read our recent content brief guide.

Chima recommends keeping these key points in mind as you plan content:

  • Prioritize unique insight and original research. This will set your content apart from AI-generated material.
  • Try to cover every topic comprehensively and aim to become the trusted source of information.
  • Make sure each piece is optimized for user intent to ensure your content meets user needs.

Also, Google’s 2022 helpful content update reinforces the importance of creating relevant content for people, not search engines. So, emphasize the need to put the user at the front and center to your writers.

Finally, consider other content formats like videos, ebooks, case studies, podcasts, etc, and build them into your content calendar. They’re a fantastic way to increase your reach, satisfy user intent, and scale your SEO content efforts.

👀👀 Pro Tip → We’ve written a detailed post on how to write SEO-optimized content that ranks. You can share this with your writers.

9. Implement On-Page SEO Techniques

Even if Google is a lot smarter these days, it still relies on some traditional SEO techniques to understand the meaning of webpages and match them to relevant queries. Implementing on-page SEO is a way to hold the algorithm’s hand and hint it at how to rank your page.

Here are some on-page SEO best practices to follow:

  • Include the main keyword in your headings and URL
  • Optimize your meta descriptions and title tags 
  • Make sure your content is helpful. Without this, nothing else matters
  • Compress multimedia files and include alt text for images and videos
  • Include internal links to point users and search engines to related content
  • Optimize your page load time 
  • Include schema markup to improve Google’s understanding of your content.

10. Support Your Efforts With Off-Page SEO

Successful SEO requires a combination of on-page and off-page tactics. Once you nail the on-page part, support those efforts with off-page SEO activities like content distribution and link building.

Backlinks from reputable sites to yours are votes of confidence, validating your authority on a particular subject. They tell Google that your content is trustworthy and valuable and deserves to rank. So, make efforts to acquire them.

You can get backlinks by creating and sharing high-quality content people naturally want to link to. Or by reaching out to reputable sites and asking them to link to you. This second bit takes a lot of work and resources, but it’s usually worth it in the end. 

You can also build backlinks by publishing guest posts on highly authoritative sites in your niche and collaborating with other brands and influencers. 

In addition, build content distribution into your SEO strategy. Don’t just publish and forget. Repurpose every piece and distribute it on socials, in niche communities, newsletters etc. All this helps you get in front of your target audience, boost brand awareness, and increase conversion, ultimately achieving your business goals. 

To learn more about building a content distribution strategy, read this guide

11. Track Your Content Performance

Remember those KPIs you outlined during goal setting at the beginning? You need to track them diligently to make sure your progress is on track to achieving your goals. 

Tracking and analyzing the outcome of your efforts helps you know what is working and what needs to be improved. It also exposes growth opportunities you would otherwise miss. So, regularly measure and report on your KPIs and use the data you get to adapt your strategy where necessary.

Position Your Business for SEO Success

Keep this in mind as you build out your content strategy –  SEO is a long-term commitment that requires ongoing efforts to remain competitive and earn a top spot on the SERPs. Results may take a while, but implementing this strategy will set you on the road to success. 

As you plan, try to keep your strategy as flexible as possible to accommodate new content ideas as they become available.

This post was researched and drafted by Juliet John and reviewed and edited by Dixon Jones.

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