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Content Optimization: The MarketMuse Guide

13 min read

This article isn’t your everyday ordinary search engine optimization guide. We’re not going to talk about alt tags, page load speed or any other factors that the average SEO guide discusses. Instead, we’re going to look at how to make your content better, both for your audience and Google so that you can rank better.

What is Content Optimization (for SEO)?

Content optimization refers to the practice of turning average content into high-quality content. The goal is to make it attractive to search engines, with the purpose of getting higher rankings.

Content optimization in this context is generally considered a part of search engine optimization (SEO). It is called on-page SEO or on-page optimization, meaning that the writer is improving the quality of content on the page for a better user experience.

The other SEO strategy refers to off-page SEO which focuses on building backlinks to drive traffic from authoritative sources to their page. This method is also called “link building.” Levi Olmstead and Moz have written some good guides on link building.

When you start optimizing many pieces of content around a particular topic, then you’re getting into topic optimization. Since that’s more involved, we’ll leave it for another time.

So let’s get started!

A Business Case for Optimized Content

Is content optimization good for business?

For most companies, Google is an important source of traffic. Creating content that doesn’t rank is a wasted expense. However, producing a blog post that ranks well is a wise investment. Repeating this on a consistent basis gives you a serious competitive advantage.

So if you want your content to be found by Google, make content optimization part of your SEO strategy.

When most people think about SEO optimized content, they imagine a laborious process. The post is published, and now you’re going back to make improvements. It’s a tedious and time-consuming activity with questionable results.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can incorporate content optimization into your content creation workflow. In doing so you raise the bar for high-quality content, creating the type that Google adores.

Establish your authority by continually publishing content that is more in-depth and comprehensive. That will ultimately lead to greater traffic and more leads, just like this.

Here’s a good business case for content optimization.

Keywords vs. Topics – What is the Difference?

Keywords have been used in SEO and online marketing to signify specific phrases that rank in search engines. A keyword is really a query typed by a user into a search engine. It’s typically thought of as exact match, although phrase match and broad match are also used. That phrase is used to retrieve a particular page.

But Google moved away from keywords in 2013 with their Hummingbird update. This algorithm change placed “greater emphasis on natural language queries, considering context and meaning over individual keywords.”

So now pages need to match the meaning of search terms.

Enter topics.

Topics are the main ideas in a concept. They are components that describe a concept. A topic is the subject — the main element — of a sentence. It is the main idea. Regarding how topics are used in content writing, they are the facts and concepts that underlie a concept. Topics are often depicted in a hierarchical fashion, such as topic trees, taxonomies or ontologies.

High-quality content is also used to denote technical facets, such as page load speed, user experience, design and other factors that impact the user’s satisfaction with a page.

Content Optimization vs. SEO: What is the Difference?

What is the difference between content optimization vs SEO optimization?

Discussions about optimizing content for SEO focus solely on the material. We’re not talking about long-tail keywords or keyword stuffing. That ship sailed a long time ago.

Instead, the goal is to ensure your post provides an exhaustive examination of the subject. You want to be recognized as an authority on the subject. Think topic clusters, pillar content, satisfying search intent and anything else that goes along with high-quality content.

On the other hand, SEO optimization refers to the format of the content including factors like page load time and other technical elements.

For a great guide on optimizing content for SEO, see this checklist from Search Engine Land.

How to Build a Web Content Optimization Strategy

Build thought leadership. Become an authority on a topic. Build a Wikipedia-like resource for your area of interest.

Time and again we say that high-quality content is what Google loves. So your search engine optimization strategy should lean heavily towards on-page optimization of content.

The best content optimization strategy is one that is infused into the entire process, from planning to creation, editing, and publication.

So let’s see how a content optimization workflow could look.

How to Make Content Optimization Part of Your Process

From the start, determine how your blog post or page fits into your existing content structure. Think in terms of content clusters:

  • Where will this new piece of content fit?
  • Will it be a pillar piece or supporting content?
  • What will it link to internally?

If you don’t have a content inventory, now is the time to create one!

Consider creating or purchasing content briefs. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re like outlines, only better. A content brief should include:

  • Title suggestions
  • Subtopics
  • Subheading suggestions
  • Questions to answer
  • Related topics to mention
  • Internal and external linking suggestions
  • Suggestion word count

A content brief can significantly reduce content creation efforts and provide for consistent, high-quality output.

Your first research task should be determining your focus topic. Establish the most critical issues that relate to the central theme. These are critical to ensuring your final content has sufficient depth.

Ranking well in search engines requires a good understanding of the competition. Take time to find out the content gaps from which they suffer.

Structure your blog post so that it covers those gaps, giving your audience that is more in-depth than anything else.

Determine what links will improve the user experience and search ranking.

Find the most important questions your audience is asking about the topic. Make sure to answer those clearly and concisely.

During the editing phase, verify that all topics are sufficiently addressed. Check for repeated usage of the same term as this can be construed as “keyword stuffing.” Replace with SEO-equivalent synonyms as required.

Verify that content length and content score are optimal when compared to those on the first page of the SERPs.

Content Optimization Tips and Best Practices

When it comes to optimizing content there are things you should do and others that are not worth doing.

What Elements Don’t Matter for Optimizing Content?

Meta tags refer to meta keywords and meta descriptions that are legacy forms of content optimization. Updating the meta tags are not enough! Historically, search engines such as Google added particular emphasis to meta tags.

But no longer.

Google ignores meta keywords and dynamically generates its search snippets. As a result, meta descriptions have little significance.

So trying to improve the click-through rate by optimizing your meta description offers little guarantee of success. More often than not, Google will ignore it.

Once upon a time, Google matched keywords on a page to those in a search. So optimizing for long-tail words made sense.

But that ship has long since sailed.

Now Google looks to surface the most comprehensive answer to a query. It does this by trying to understand the meaning of a page.

Optimization Elements That Count

It all starts with topics.

Using a good topic model ensures your post covers all the significant issues that relate to the primary subject. This screen shot shows a partial output from MarketMuse for the topic “content optimization.”

As usual, the devil is in the details. Remember, a topic model by nature is a hierarchy populated by semantic relations. The approach and the result are radically different than that of a keyword generator. Take a look at this output from a well-known keyword tool looking at keywords related to “content optimization.”

Notice that the common denominator among all entries is they share the phrase “content optimization.” That’s the result of poor topic modeling.

Keep this in mind when you optimize your content. You want to ensure there is sufficient depth of coverage. Here you’re looking for content gaps within your blog post that you need to fill. Likewise, there may be topics you briefly mention that need further elaboration.

Use structure to convey meaning.

Start with the title tag. Make sure it reflects your focus topic. Search engines have no sense of humor, so don’t try to be funny or smart. Be clear and concise if you want to rank well.

Header tags have a particular purpose in HTML. They are cues to understanding the meaning of a page. There’s a structural reason for header tag order <h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6> so make sure you use them the way they were intended.

Header tags are about structure and not design.

Use the opportunity to incorporate related topics into header tags. Be clear and avoid indirect references.

For example, the <h2> heading of this section is “Content Optimization Tips and Best Practices.” I could have called it “tips and best practices.” But I chose the former because it’s more precise and explicit. That’s good for both people and search engines.

Connect questions to answers.

Search engines see every query as a question. Consequently, they look to surface pages whose content matches the intent behind that query.

So make sure your blog post concisely answers the relevant questions.

Write with clarity.

Clarity of writing is essential to your audience and to search engines. There are limits to Google’s Natural Language Processing capabilities.

My personal rule of thumb. Treat Google like a 15-year-old 9th-grade student!

How to Measure the Success of Your Content Optimization Efforts

Here are a few metrics you can use to evaluate your search engine optimization efforts. These are the key performance indicators with which you should be most concerned.

Higher performance in organic search. Better performance in search engines.

Lower bounce rate. Users are more likely to find what they are looking for as soon as they hit your page.

Users spend more time on the platform and are more engaged. That’s measured by deeper scroll depth, more click-throughs to other content items on your site (internal links) and on other pages (external links).

Content Optimization Software Tools

There are many tools from which you can choose. On-page SEO checkers are quite popular, but they do not cover high-quality content or topics. Instead, they cover the format of SEO. If you have a WordPress blog, Yoast SEO plugin is a great tool.

When it comes to content optimization software (read our guide) there are a handful of solutions:

Acrolinx is another AI platform that analyzes content and automates recommendations for improvement. It helps ensure everything a company writes is perfectly on-brand.

BrightEdge is great for keeping tabs of keywords and offer a comprehensive dashboard. They provide many tools including ContentIQ and Data Cube.

Atomic Reach is a machine learning platform that helps create, share, and get engagement with your content.

Content King is a content auditing, and tracking app gives you traditional SEO metrics. It’s limiting factor is that it can’t help create or optimize content at the page level.

Conductor is an organic marketing solution focused on intent mapping that offers good ROI tracking. Unfortunately, it can’t analyze existing content.

MarketMuse is a great content optimization system. It uses artificial intelligence to help marketers measure and improve the quality of their content. It offers a suite of applications to support the research, creation, editing, and optimization of your blog posts and pages.

Content marketing starts with great content. Optimizing your content to perform well in search engines has little to do with keyword density and cramming keywords into alt text meta tags. That’s kind of spammy when you stop to think about it.

Instead of exploring ways to exploit the loopholes in Google’s search algorithm, establish a process to consistently produce quality content. The more quality content you provide, the more significant your competitive advantage when it comes to securing organic traffic.

Featured image vector designed by Liravega / Freepik