The Content Marketing SEO Checklist You Need to Rank Well in the SERPs

September 24, 2021
Ana Gotter

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the first thing most everyone can agree is necessary to rank well in SERP (search engine results page). Besides writing quality content, there are some basics to SEO that will move your blog to the first few pages in a customer’s search. 

The bad news is that today if you want to rank well, you need to have all your ducks in a row because you know that everyone else has done their homework too. The good news? It isn’t that hard to do with just a little bit of homework and forethought.

Let’s take a look at how you can optimize every page on your site for SEO, especially content.

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First: Create a list of primary & secondary keywords

Keywords have become a buzzword around marketing circles, but it really boils down to what someone would put into the Google search bar that would bring them to your content. You need to know this because every other aspect of SEO hinges on excellent keyword research. 

  • Each post requires one primary keyword and at least two or three strong secondary keywords.
  • How can you find the right keywords? Consider what the point of your post really is. What question is it answering for your audience? Type that question into your search engine and see the variations that Google auto-suggests. 
  • Create this list for reference and index it for your blog so you don’t need to start over every time you sit down to write.
  • You basically need to think like your reader. Once you determine the keywords that are relevant to their search intent, figure out where your blog would land in the ranking. 
  • Choose both general keywords based on Google searches and also very specific ones to target your niche audiences.
sample of primary keyword research result

OR

sample research using a question

Even in their article on the formula for proper keyword density, Hubspot is top, thanks to its excellent headers and percentage of using the top keyword. 

Incorporate the keywords in headers & text 

Google looks at headings to see what your blog post is about. By incorporating the keywords into your headings, you prove how relevant your content is to the people searching it, and quite frankly, you prove to Google that you’re not gaming the system.

  • The primary keyword should show up in heading and at least one or two in both Heading 2 and Heading 3, if applicable. This way you can prove to the SEO bots that your post is really about that high ranking keyword.
  • Secondary keywords should be found firmly in the text and if possible in subheads. Obviously this should come naturally as you write, but it’s worth a second look before pressing “Publish” to make sure everything you need is there. 
  • Don’t go keyword stuffing, though! Hubspot determines that the optimum keyword density, or how often a keyword shows up per a certain amount of words, is 1%. Essentially, for every 100 words, you can mention your primary keyword once without going overboard.
  • A few other tips are to include the keyword in the introduction and ideally the first paragraph if it sounds natural.

Write Your SEO page title 

Your SEO Page title (which is sometimes called the “title tag”) is the page heading that shows up in Google. This is not the site URL (which is above it). It tells users what they’re getting when they click, and it’s a valuable cue to Google about what users will find after they do click. 

This is your SEO Page title:

sample SEO page title

It might seem simple, but we have some solid tips to do it right. When writing SEO page titles, there’s a four-step approach that I use to make sure that the title is strong, SEO-friendly, reader-friendly, and click-worthy. 

  • If you don’t automatically set an SEO page title, it’s typically going to be whatever your page H1 is. If my blog post title is “Tips for Keeping Indoor Plants Alive” and I don’t add a different SEO page title, then my SEO page title will be the same.
  • Stick to the character count. Google only displays 50-60 characters of your SEO page title in the search engines.If you keep it within that limit, there’s a good chance that the title will be displayed well. 
  • So first, check your H1 title and see what the character count is. If it’s above the limit, then you need to adjust the SEO page title. 
  • If it’s within the character count, run it through Moz’s title length checker to see how it will likely be displayed in Google. You can put your meta description in, too, if you want to kill two birds with one stone. 
screenshot of title tag preview
  • Including your keyword in your SEO page title is important because it shows users that your content is relevant to the exact term that they searched for. This is easy to do, but it’s always worth pointing out because I’ve seen writers send in content that forgets to include the keyword when they’re trying to narrow down character counts. If you look at it as an essential building block of the page title, though, that makes it easier. 
  • Decide if you want to include your brand name. Ever noticed how many Google search results will list a title and then the brand name after a separator? 
sample of SEO page title that includes the brand name

Adding your brand name can help increase brand awareness. And if you have any brand name recognition already, it can help you earn clicks when users take note of it. If you have the character counts, it’s a good option to throw in, but it definitely is not mandatory. 

sample of an excellent meta description

An excellent meta description explains precisely what is in the post.

Write a meta description 

Meta descriptions, quite simply, is an HTML tag around 140-160 characters that summarizes the content in your post. 

  • Not only should a meta description include your primary keyword and establish the context of your entire post, but it needs to make users want to click. It should be written in such a way that urges readers to read more.
  • It’s easy to set this in a professional way with tools like SEO Yoast.
  • If you use Shopify’s CMS then your meta description is conveniently part of its native features.

External and internal links are self-explanatory, but this helps Google show that your content is linking to high-quality resources, making your content likely to be high quality for external links. 

  • Linking to respected sites also helps to establish context and show what’s relevant in the field. 
  • You always link to statistics when making any kind of claim to prove validity.
  • An obvious perk to internal links is that it keeps users moving around your own site and discovering your great content.
  • Try for a minimum of three external links per post and three internal links, plus you’ll want to add the CTA (call to action) at the end whenever possible

Add images & alt text 

You likely know how images help break up a post and can show up in Google image search, but did you know that they only will show up in search if alt text is added

  • Alt text is not only a description of the image, but also the functionality of the image.
  • You need to use the keyword if possible, but don’t just drop in the keyword and nothing else because alt text is used to establish context by Google AND users with screen-reader technology; it should describe the image as if you cannot see it.
using the keyword in image alt tag

This example of good alt text lets everyone know exactly what they’re missing in the image.

Treat subheads like a site map 

A subhead is simply how to label the subsection of your writing. Follow these specifications to learn how to make your subheads the most effective ones. 

  • Core topics that you’re discussing should be clearly stated in H2s and H3s because it shows Google that these subtopics are important to the post, and it establishes credible context.
  • Subheads also allow you to see what other high-ranking posts have for H2s on the same keyword; this can help you determine if you need to add to your content or not to outperform them in the SERPs.
  • If you do, consider the skyscraper method, where you find links to high performing sites and turn around to write a better post on the same topic. Then you promote it for higher rankings.
sample of accurate subheadings

The right subheadings can rank everything higher. 

Optimize for featured snippet opportunities 

Featured snippets are brief sections of content that appear at the very top of the search engine’s results that exactly answer a specific user query.

Featured snippets are automatically pulled from Google’s web index; it’s not the same thing as something like a meta description, which you get to manually set. If your answer is the most relevant, direct, and authoritative, you’ll likely be the one who gets the snippet.

Featured snippets matter because having any amount of content (even just a few lines) showing up right at the top of the SERPs is invaluable. It’s why featured snippet spots are so coveted and many experienced content marketers try to vy for them: There is nothing above you (except ads in a few rare cases) and you’re set apart from the rest.

Here’s what you can do to increase your chance at ranking:

  • Look for common questions asked about your target keyword using questions-only filters in keyword research tools and by looking at the “people also asked” section in Google
  • Ask a question in a subheading and immediately answer the question directly in the first sentence of the section 
  • Include keywords if possible in the header where the question is asked or in the featured snippet opportunity
  • Look at what’s currently ranking for a featured snippet and try to outperform it 
sample of top ranking post from a search

You see these all the time. If I ask Google about the best sustainable brands this year, they’ll produce this list, breaking down much longer content to give me a succinct answer.

Make sure your site is crawlable

Crawlability is the word used to assign how easily a site can be indexed, or found by search bots. If it’s not crawlable, it’s not being indexed, and your SEO dreams are shot 

Google search console settings

This will show you that your site is being crawled, and unless you have specific pages set to not be indexed, your blog should be crawled too.

sample of a Google search console craw stats

Conclusion

There are a number of boxes to check when you build your SEO for one post. But if you do it carefully enough times then it will become second nature to do it right every time. Use this checklist to make sure you don’t miss a step, and we’ll see you at the top of the Google search results!

Want to keep a true SEO checklist handy? Download our free SEO checklist for content marketing here.

Looking for more ways to improve your content so that it ranks well and converts more customers? Check out our blog for all the greatest tips in blog writing and content marketing.

Ana Gotter
Ana is a strategic content marketer specializing in business, finance, and marketing writing, though she's worked across a range of industries. She works in Orlando with her three dogs and can be contacted at www.anagotter.com.

About the Author

Ana Gotter
Ana is a strategic content marketer specializing in business, finance, and marketing writing, though she's worked across a range of industries. She works in Orlando with her three dogs and can be contacted at www.anagotter.com.