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.