How do you use data to create quality content that still reads well? I’ve written this post to help writers working with related topics in MarketMuse Content Briefs and Optimize.
First, we’ll review how to interpret the data. Then we’ll examine how to incorporate it into a story.
How Subtopics Appear in a MarketMuse Content Brief
Let’s take a look at a real MarketMuse Content Brief called How to Write a Blog Post for SEO. We’ll refer to it frequently in the post.
This content brief is a typical example with multiple sections, each having its own list of related topics and suggested distributions, plus a list for the overall subject of the article. Each part of the brief deals with a topic closely related to the subject. In this case, the subject is writing a blog post for SEO.
Don’t be surprised if you see some overlap in the subtopics of the sections. At the same time, you should expect to see subtopics that are unique to their part.
Understanding The Topic List
The topic list in each section is ordered by relevance, with the most important appearing near the top. Relevance has to do with semantics and not how frequently a topic is mentioned. A topic can be discussed infrequently and still be significant.
Suggested Dist. indicates how frequently a term is mentioned, based on our analysis of hundreds of expertly written content on the subject.
Understanding Suggested Distribution
Suggested distribution has nothing to do with keyword density. We’re not suggesting that mentioning a term the suggested number of times will help your article rank better. Instead, think of it as a guide to ensuring your content sounds natural.
Looking at our example brief’s topic list indicates that it’s not unusual to mention the term content frequently (10+ times) in an article on “how to write a blog post for SEO.” It’s the same with the term “search engine” (3-10 times).
On the other hand, using the phrase “how to write a blog post for SEO” frequently in that post would sound odd and unnatural. In fact, it may hurt your optimization efforts.
Here’s how I personally look at the distribution range.
Any topic with a suggested distribution of 1 – 2 is most likely a topic to which I’ll devote at least a paragraph, if not more. They form part of the structure of my narrative.
Topics with a suggested distribution of 3 – 10 can go either way. They could be part of the structure or something that gets mentioned in passing.
Topics with a suggested distribution of 10+ are those that are naturally mentioned during a discussion of the article’s focus topic. There’s no specific section or paragraph devoted to the term because it occurs so frequently. But not using the word in the article would appear odd.
How Content Score is Calculated
Content score is calculated according to the number of times a term is mentioned. A point is awarded every time the topic is mentioned, up to a maximum of two points per topic. That means there’s no incentive to stuff your content with particular terms.
MarketMuse content briefs contain a sufficient variety of topics to mention so that you can meet your target content score.
How to Incorporate Subtopics Into Your Writing
There are three ways to work suggested subtopics into your writing:
- Appropriate language usage verification.
- Weaving a narrative based on the topic list.
- Checking for topic gaps.
Match Your Language to Your Audience
One way of using the topic list is to ensure proper usage of terminology. Don’t assume all your readers have the same background or subject knowledge.
For example, if everyone spells out acronyms, then so should you. There may be terms that share a similar meaning, but for whatever reason, one name is preferred over the other.
In our content brief example, we see that SERPs, which stands for search engine results pages, is a frequently used acronym. On the other hand, the term search engine optimization is written out in full. It’s only used as an acronym when incorporated with other terms like off-page seo or SEO-friendly content.
Unless there’s an excellent reason, stick with the common language used in your industry. Sometimes that’s all it takes to achieve an acceptable content score!
Weave a Topical Narrative
The second approach looks at the topic list as a narrative about the subject. Your responsibility as a writer is to weave those topics into a story.
Here are the topics from the first section of the brief, Search Engine Optimization Tools.
Look at the title of this section and the questions to answer. It appears the best approach is to provide a list of tools that help with long-tail keywords, site analysis, determining search volume and traffic, on-page optimization, etc. That’s the story of this section – tools that address the topics in the list.
Let’s examine the topic list from another section in the brief. Section 5 deals with image preparation and SEO. How do we work these into a narrative?
In this case, you might want to work the narrative around the questions. In fact, you could use these questions as <h3> tags for this section. Since header tags hold greater prominence over paragraphs, consider tweaking the questions to incorporate recommended topics:
- “How do images benefit SEO?” becomes “How do images benefit search engine optimization?”
- “How can you make sure your images are optimized for SEO?” becomes “How can you make sure your images are SEO friendly” (seo friendly is a recommended topic in another section)
- “What is image optimization” doesn’t change because it contains a prescribed topic.
Incorporating those modified questions into the article earns us three points right there. That’s nearly 10% of our content score! Considering the suggested word count for this section represents 13% of the article, we’re in perfect shape.
Each section has an extensive list of topics to mention. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to use each one, giving you lots of liberty in how you structure the narrative.
Let’s look at section 4 from our content brief as one last example. The suggested word count for this section is 13% of the total, so this section’s content score should account for about 4 or 5 points.
This time to change things up, we’re not using questions as subheadings. So first off, I would change this section’s heading from “Writing SEO headlines and URLs” to “Writing SEO friendly headlines and URLs” because that one tweak is worth a point.
Initially, the topics in the list that are frequently mentioned aren’t a big concern. I expect those to come up naturally in the conversation about headlines and URLs.
The very first question for this section sets us up for a great introduction. The question is, “Why are titles important in SEO writing?”
If I had no data to guide me, this would probably be my response.
“Titles are an important part of SEO writing. A title is one of the first things Google looks at when determining the relevance of a page for a specific search phrase. A title that accurately describes the subject of a page will more likely perform better than one that doesn’t.”
So, how did I do? From a content score perspective, not so good. I got ZERO.
Here’s how I would write it using the data in the topics list.
“The title tag is an important part of creating seo-friendly content. It’s one of the first indicators that a search engine uses to determine the topic of a page. Plus, a well-crafted title can help a page stand out from all the competition in the SERPs, potentially increasing its click-through rate.”
This time I got five points! And that’s just by answering one question in the section.
What’s the difference? Both versions have similar ideas, but the words used to describe that idea are different.
One version employs terminology used by experts on the subject. One doesn’t.
Topic Gap Check
Most likely, you’ll have no problem getting credit for frequently-mentioned terms. Those are the ones that are really hard NOT to mention. But it’s the topics that are rarely mentioned to which you generally need to pay attention.
Topics in the list that aren’t mentioned often are ones that frequently get a paragraph or more for discussion. If your content score is meager, double-check your work to ensure you haven’t missed any of these crucial topics.
Look at the related topic list as a guide to helping you craft quality content. You don’t need to mention every single topic to meet the target content score. Topics that have fewer mentions are typically those that form the structure of the narrative. Conversely, topics used frequently are those that you expect to see mentioned in passing. You should be able to score these ones with little effort on your part.
Written by Stephen Jeske