Intelligently Crafting Content

by Donna Fontenot May 11th, 2009 

I could start off this article by saying that to succeed with SEO, you should create high-quality content, but if I did that, you would immediately think, "same old 'content is king' blah, blah, blah", and you'd probably not read any further. So instead, let's just start off by stipulating that creating great content is a given. So often, however, no one really goes beyond the phrase "good content" to discuss how to create that content, and just as importantly, how to plan it out, and effectively create a flow throughout the site.

Let's talk about just one type of content today. This content is informational in purpose and is designed to either answer a specific question or teach the reader something. Every subject, every topic, every niche has information associated with it that could be conveyed in a FAQ or Knowledge Base format.

People look to the Internet for answers to their questions. If those questions relate to your niche in any way, you should offer an answer to those questions. You can choose to use the typical FAQ question/answer format if you wish, or the Knowledge Base search form format if you prefer, or you can simply structure it just as you would in any generic drill-down article format.

The keys to planning and designing this content lie in the initial research and in the planned layout.

First, do extensive research to find out what questions users actually have. Some ways to discover those questions include:

  • Mining your own site's search logs. What have users searched for within your site?
  • Studying your analytics data to determine what users expected to find when they came to your site. Did they find what they were looking for, or were they disappointed and have to look elsewhere?
  • Troll Q&A sites such as Yahoo! Answers, WikiAnswers, Askville, and Yedda. Search within your topic area to see what everyday users want to know. Very often, their questions either go unanswered or they are provided with subpar answers.
  • Lurk in forums and social networks that revolve around your topic. Find out what people are seeking help with at these sites.
  • Search and monitor Twitter streams for the questions people have most often about your topic

Once you've done your research, make an extensive, exhaustive list of every question you can answer about your topic. Some will be simple one-line Q&A factoids, while others might involve long how-to articles. Some might even lend themselves to instructional video material. The goal at this point is to simply outline and organize.


If you're old-school, you'll likely think in terms of an old-fashioned linear outline such as those your high school teachers taught you. These days, such an organizational process would probably be called a mind map or a concept map, both of which tend to organize information in a less linear, more visual way. Whatever method you choose to use, the process of organizing your research material, subject matter, topics, and questions is vital to the process. This organizational process accomplishes all of the following:

  • Creates a structural flow that will determine navigation
  • Creates a heirarchy of topics and subtopics that determine general to specific information to be presented
  • Helps you see relationships between topics

Once you've created the organizational flow, you can begin the actual process of creating the content. When possible, use the exact phrasing (or very similar phrasing) that you've seen come up in your research. If the phrase "how do I" is often used, then place that at the beginning of the question within a Hx tag. By matching what users are looking for, you make it easy for readers (and search engines) to verify that your article answers their specific questions.

Finally, don't just end each article when the question is answered. Always include a Recent Articles list at the end of the article, that directs the user to other articles they might find helpful. This is where the mind mapping process you went through earlier can be very helpful, because it helps determine relationships between topics. You may also want to tag each article (either publicly or privately), and let the tags help determine which articles are related to each other. There are many ways to present related articles, but I prefer showing this list at the end of an article, rather than anywhere else on the page. If the related articles box is located at the top of the article, or within a sidebar, it will often get overlooked. However, placed directly after the last sentence of the article, the user's eye is immediately connected to the related list. Keeping users onsite and engaged is always helpful to your goals.

To summarize, when we talk about the relationship between SEO and content, it's not JUST about creating good content. Much of the work comes about long before the first word is ever written. Do extensive research to determine what questions are being asked. Make an exhaustive list of topics that will answer those questions. Organize those topics in a hierarchical manner using standard outlining techniques or a mind mapping tool. Determine relationships between topics during this process, or by tagging each topic. Only then are you ready to actually write the content. Finally, after each article, present a short Related Topics box that can guide users to engage more fully in your site. This entire process will create content users are looking for, and nothing has a better chance of garnering attention, buzz, links, and rankings than content that people want. Make sure your site is the one that gives it to them.

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18 Responses to “Intelligently Crafting Content”

  1. Ruud Hein says:

    I like your use of mindmapping; big fan and user of the technique.

    But I was thinking — maybe part of what makes your process so effective is the writing down part.

    Writing down your content areas and content options goes beyond keeping a swipe file. It's almost a commitment; this is the content I can make, this is what I should create.

  2. Donna Fontenot says:

    I agree that commiting to content creation is important. It can mean the difference between having an idea and actually implementing it.

  3. Donna,
    Great use of mind mapping. Using Mindjet MindManager, it's possible to take advantage of the embedded browser and RSS feeds to capture all sorts of design feedback and content. Powerful tagging and filtering capabilities lets you organize your research. And, finally, the export capabilities lets you share your findings with others on your team in a variety of useful formats including interactive PDF files, Word, PowerPoint and Visio.

  4. Donna,
    Thank you for explaining this so well! Too often, websites are launched in a rush without the planning and research you describe. Content is more than the text on the page; it's a combination of the navigational directives, design and calls to action throughout the site that "speak" to the reader. Every piece of content needs to be strategically placed like glue.

    You mention outlining and organizing, which is the blueprint. The process you shared regarding building relationships among pages reminds me of how an architect plans for the "flow" of a house and how one moves from room to room.

    Again, thanks!

  5. Ruud Hein says:

    @Michael Love MindManager. Love it. Use it all the time to quickly map "stuff". I'm also heavily into PersonalBrain. Not so insert/enter fast as MM though.

    @Dana I like Microsoft Word to do outlining. I know there's special software for it as well but why not use what I have, right?

  6. Dan says:

    In my opinion the research phase is the most important aspect to creating great content. I agree with you regarding the addition of related posts. I just installed the plugin and I noticed that that it has increased the time spent on site 3 fold.

  7. Anelly says:

    I love the idea of mind-mapping. it's simple and it's great to create a clear view of things. Regarding the research indeed Q&A sites and forums can provide you useful details.

  8. Neil says:

    Great that you have taken this subject beyond the ususal "how to get visitors to your site" and onot how to satisfy their need. This is the key to retaining visitors and incrementally building your readership over time.

  9. Gazz says:

    I like the idea of the related articles at the bottom of the page, my personal reading habits often lead me to read these, and whilst our somewhat eclectic articles are not often related at this stage over time it is definitely something we will be including. Many thanks for a well written, informative article


  10. Michael D says:

    I like the use of mind mapping too but I have to admit I still rely on an old fashioned 8 foot whiteboard to mark up my content ideas. Something satisfying about stepping away from the computer to think things out.

  11. Larry Kim says:

    Hi Donna: I agree that the usual "content is king" platitudes don't specifically address how to actually write good content for SEO. Specifically, as you say, "how to plan it out, and effectively create a flow throughout the site." I actually created wordstream for this purpose. It lets you aggregate keyword data from various sources (like log files, web analytics, keyword tools, etc.) It then lets you segment your keyword taxonomy into groupings and any number of sub-groupings. The SEO strategy then becomes to turn the different keyword segmentations into themed web pages. Each keyword segmentation has a slightly different orientation – question/informational orientation, product orientation, comparison orientation, etc. The strategy is to try to figure out what the user was actually looking for, and to create content that responds to the user's search query. Anyway, for what it's worth, there's a video demo of the program here:

  12. Andy C says:

    Well said Donna
    I believe that it really doesn't matter what kind of tools that you use but it has alot more to do with the fact that you have put some thought into what your site is all about and what benefit you could bring to those that visit your site.
    That being said i have been using lately for the basic setup and flow of a site.


  13. Donna Fontenot says:

    I agree that the tool is less important than the action itself. Someone's preferred method might be a few hundred sticky notes. That's ok too. Whatever works. :)

  14. Jeet says:

    @Donna: Good tips, I was hoping to see effective use of images in content. I also prefer to prepare an outline with different sections before I start writing anything more.

    Will try out the freemindmap tool you have suggested, so far I had been using paper pen or sometimes simple notes to create outline for articles.

  15. Ruud Hein says:

    @Michael I like that idea. Should get me a whiteboard; still doing everything virtual here :)

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