“SEO Content” – What It Is and Why Businesses Need It

Let’s get this out of the way from the start: I (John) hate the term “SEO Content.” But, because it’s become common language in the content and digital marketing world, I’ve leaned into using it here to avoid wasting time swimming against the tide, which is exhausting and counter-productive with things like personal preference. 

I’ve still not embraced “blogs” instead of “blog posts,” though. I’m not a savage, after all.

My personal preferences aside, SEO content is something that many businesses are investing in, and more will do so over time too (if my crystal ball is correct). Content marketing started as ads, then over time morphed to mean mostly company blogs full of posts adding value to their readers, building a readership and an RSS feed, hopefully, an email list, and so on.

Times have changed, though. 

RSS has, for now, gone the way of Atari and NFTs–still present, but kind of in an annoying way. RSS reader apps are the same. Most businesses still under-invest in email lists. 

As social media has come to dominate our dopamine receptors, people have likewise become less and less willing to read long articles. They’ll skim and look for an answer to their query, then bounce. Thought leadership content works well for building an audience and making sales easier, but most thought leadership content these days comes in the form of YouTube videos, TED Talks, and more visual media.

To get people to read long-form editorial content, your work has to be highly polished, to the level of a publication like The Atlantic or Politico. It has to be well-researched, well-written, concise (heavily edited), AND still be on a site that loads quickly, is well-designed, and thus is a joy to read while also being visually stimulating. Looking at most SEO content on the internet, is it really a surprise that people don’t want to read it and thus it underperforms from basically every business metric you can track?

While I could successfully argue that the content that publications like The Atlantic and Politico produce is the ultimate SEO content since it creates unique search volume for those topics and drives systemic change, “SEO content” usually refers to content produced specifically to capture existing search volume by being written in a very specific way. 

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. 

First, let’s define SEO content and look at a few examples.

Then we’ll talk about how to leverage it to grow organic traffic that can achieve two goals:

  1. New customer acquisition
  2. Customer retention

We’ll do that by sharing why businesses need content for SEO, how to do it differently so it builds your brand (instead of hurting it), the team you need in place to do it well, creating it at scale, and how to maintain SEO content so it continues to rank and drive business results.

What Is “SEO Content?”

So-called “SEO content” is marketing material produced to rank in search engines. Also sometimes called “informational content,” SEO content includes materials that are usually bucketed into categories like:

  • Blog posts
  • Resources
  • Term dictionaries

This content is designed to attract organic (non-paid) traffic to a website by incorporating specific keywords, optimizing for search engine algorithms, and providing valuable information to users.

SEO content is meant to be created in volume to target specific queries that people are already searching for. It’s not creating new demand, like thought leadership content is meant to do. Instead, it harnesses existing demand to drive your business forward.

We’ve seen recently, though, that search engines are less and less keen on this content, and the sameness in SEO content doesn’t even serve customers anymore. SEOs have forgotten that people are the most important readers, and when usage signals and conversion metrics are bad, rankings don’t matter at all.

Thus, we need to rethink what “SEO content” is. 

We need to move away from one-upping the others in the search results and start producing stuff that potential customers want to READ.

As a writer, long-time marketer, and entrepreneur, I believe we can make, have, and eat our cake all at the same time, maybe even while walking. 

Why Your Business Needs SEO Content

In content marketing, there are a few types of content that you can create:

  1. Thought leadership
  2. Marketing content
  3. Sales content
  4. SEO content

We can think of these as the four main pillars of content. Without them, especially without SEO content, your content program and new business acquisition will be less effective.

Why?

Because SEO content is one of the main drivers of organic traffic on the internet. It taps into the existing search demand in your space and brings those prospects to your website.

SEO content is different from the other three pillars in that it is primarily meant to acquire new customers via your website. This means, of course, that the content you’re producing to rank also needs to convert! Of course, SEO content can also be thought leadership content, because unique perspectives on well-trodden topics will always convert better and establish your brand as a leader in the space. Remember: brand is worth more than any SEO content you can ever write. 

Keep that in mind for later.

Doing SEO Content Differently

I’m going to challenge all of us to do better. I believe that we can create SEO content that:

  • takes users into account first
  • is strategized and structured so that it meets business, not traffic, goals first
  • adds value to the internet, and
  • drives traffic to the website. 

How to Create Better SEO Content

Value-adding SEO content that drives conversions and traffic is possible. I’m convinced of this because I’ve seen it work. 

When you’re running a content campaign, there are a few primary points to keep in mind and questions to ask yourself, before you produce it and then again before you publish it.

These include:

  1. Is this a topic that my ideal customers are asking about?
  2. Will reading it on our site endear our brand more to them?
  3. Do we express strong opinions and show that we deeply understand the subject matter?
  4. Will reading it on our site help them understand what we do and what we’re about, and help them decide to work with us if they have the problems we solve?
  5. Would I be proud to show this to my CEO, or if you’re already the CEO to a friend whose opinion you value?
  6. Does it cover the topic completely and succinctly, regardless of whether the post is short or long?
  7. Is it optimized for both skimming and in-depth reading?
  8. Is it well researched, and are trusted external and internal sources references and credited?
  9. Are SEO best practices followed, such as the main keyword in the title and URL?
  10. Is the headline written to entice clicks from search engine users, and does the content deliver on that headline’s promise?

You may already notice something about my list above–I don’t mention SEO *at all* until the final two steps. You may argue that all of the steps before those are all part of good SEO, and I’ll agree with you there, but unfortunately, there are too many out there on the internet who really only think about 9 and 10 as “SEO.”

All content, including SEO content, should first seek to add value to the internet. People should want to read it. Wil Reynolds spells this out well in this post.

The best SEO content is content that people can’t pick out unless they have a trained eye. It ranks well, but as far as the reader is concerned, that’s just because it’s the best result on the internet for the topic.

The Team You Need for Great SEO Content

Contrary to how many businesses build out a content function, content is not an individual sport. It is a team sport, with multiple roles that all have their own unique skill set. When properly staffed and resourced with budget and time, content marketing can be a formidable advantage for a company. 

Your content team needs these roles accounted for:

  1. Strategy
  2. Project management
  3. Creation (writing)
  4. Editing (quality control)
  5. Design
  6. Ops (punishing)
  7. Distribution (marketing)

With all of these in place, you’ll be set up to create a decent volume of great content that ranks and drives results. Growing your output is then a matter of growing the number of people you have strategizing, managing, creating, editing, and marketing. 

Another way to achieve more creation is by leveraging AI, which allows you to produce more content of the same quality. This increase doesn’t come without a cost though, because the amount of strategizing, editing, designing, and marketing will also increase. You must not forget to account for that as you increase output.

Creating SEO Content at Scale

As AI proliferates and becomes cheaper so that we can create a lot more content faster and more economically, we must remember that it only enables us to create more of the same level of content that we’re already producing manually. 

If your content is great (actually great, not “can rank in Google” great), AI will let you produce a lot more great content. It’s already in your DNA to do so, and you won’t publish content that is less than that.

If your content is only ok, meaning it’s written in a specific way so that it can rank, without thought for who might read it, then you’re just going to produce more of the same. 

Getting quality out of AI content comes down to a few things:

  1. The quality of the tools
  2. The quality of the prompts
  3. The amount of editing that happens.

Quality of Tools

AI tools are a dime a dozen these days, with each varying in how well-optimized they are for your specific needs. 

What I look for in AI tools is:

  1. The ability to have it learn my style
  2. The speed of generation
  3. Accuracy of facts
  4. Ability to cite its sources

Price matters, but AI content that you prompt yourself is all relatively similarly priced. When it’s fully managed by a service provider, costs go up.

Quality of Prompting

When using AI to create content, you have to give it good directions. Many companies now are building out extravagant prompting solutions to produce high-quality text output. 

Individuals can get better at it too. In fact, there’s now the concept of a “prompt engineer” who knows how to write the prompts that achieve the output level that they have been shown to need. 

Editing

Finally, as output increases, so does the amount of editing required. 

In a traditional publishing house, writers hand content to an editor who gives feedback, called developmental editing. The writer then incorporates that feedback into their next draft, which is then reviewed by the primary editor and then handed off to a copy editor and proofreader to finalize the copy for publishing.

AI content, because there is no “writer,” needs an adjusted process.

The process we’ve seen work well is:

  • Content produced with AI
  • It’s handed off to a writer who doubles as the first line of editing. The writer incorporates story, opinion, references, and formatting.

This writer/editor then does two things:

  1. Feeds the content back to the prompter in order to train the AI model for future content
  2. Sends it to a copy editor and proofreader for finalizing for publishing

AI doesn’t replace writers or editors. On the contrary, AI content makes skilled writers and editors more necessary and their work busier. AI is ideal for first-draft content, so writers who can only write that level should be concerned and probably should re-skill into something else, but AI is not yet capable of replacing humans. I don’t think it ever will, at least not at the high end of the market or for enterprises who care about brand. 

Maintaining SEO Content

Once you have created your SEO content, you should see an increase in traffic over time. You’ll usually see a post settle in where it naturally wants to rank, without external factors influencing it. Then you do some link building, both internal and external, and maybe some promotion, and it rises in the rankings.

Most businesses, though, stop there. You’ve accomplished your ranking goals, right?

That may be true for a time, but you’ll soon notice that content stops ranking as well after a while. It becomes:

  • Outdated
  • Buried in your site architecture
  • Riddled with broken references and links

It’s logical that, if search engines want to reward the best content, they will not want to reward content that is outdated, hard to find, and full of broken links and dead-ends to the rest of the web.

This content isn’t primarily what readers want. It looks old and won’t convert like it once did.

This is why we update it–so it ranks and converts as well as, if not better than, it did at the start. In fact, we often see updated content outperform its earlier metrics.

So how do you know what content to update, and how do you execute on that?

The Content You Should Update

When auditing my own content for updating, I look for a few things in the following order: 

  1. How it’s used to drive significant traffic and leads
  2. If its performance is down at least 25% in the past year
  3. Whether performance has more upside than it achieved before
  4. How it’s targeting growing, not static or declining queries 

. If the content didn’t drive significant results before, then it doesn’t matter if the performance is down 25% year on year. But if there’s a significant opportunity with it, and the original article just didn’t capitalize on it, I’ll keep it in the queue. If the queries are growing, then I’ll move it up.

The Updating Process

Updating content for SEO is similar to writing new content, but it’s quicker because you don’t have to discover the topic to write about. 

You still need, though:

  1. A subject expert to review and either fix or point out what should be updated
  2. A writer or editor to update the piece, including updating old references, adding sections that add value to the piece, and referencing other relevant articles on the site
  3. A copy editor and proofreader to finalize it for publishing.

Once you have updated your content, you can either publish it under the same URL with an updated date, bring it higher in your site architecture so it can rank, or republish it under a new, better-optimized URL. Just don’t forget to redirect the old URL to the new one, to retain any inbound links and referred visitors from other websites. 

Should You Update Old Content, or Produce New Content?

Before we end, it’s worth discussing whether or not you should be updating old content or producing new content. 

The answer is, for most companies and use cases, is “both.” The execution on this, however, is not so simple.

Most companies should both be investing in new content AND updating old content. 

Of course, you can’t update old content if you haven’t been producing content and thus don’t have any old content! In that case, invest in producing as much good industry-leading content as you can.

Once you’ve been publishing for a few years, you will likely begin to see your traffic and conversion gains leveling off. This is a sure sign that it’s time to start thinking about and investing in updating old content. It’s impossible to give a specific percentage of effort to put into new content versus updating old, but most companies we work with spend approximately 20-30% of efforts updating old content, and often as much as 50% at the start in order to capitalize on the impacts they believe updating content will have. 

Go Forth and Rank (and Convert!)

SEO content can have a significant impact on a business’s results. But, just following the crowd will not set you apart and help you build a brand that is trusted and wins the market. 

Once you’ve been producing SEO content for a long time, you’ll want to shift some focus to updating old content so it can continue to perform for you. Maintaining this balance of creating new while also updating old content will give you the best results.

EditorNinja is the internet’s favorite editing service. We both edit new content, so it’s on brand and ready to rank and convert, and update old content so it performs once again. Schedule a free Intro Call to learn more.