SEO Basics + a Checklist for Content Marketers

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SEO Friendly ContentWhat are the SEO basics all content marketers should know?

So much time, attention, and detail goes into creating content of substantial quality. You write with passion, you express creativity in the content you develop, and find innovative ways to showcase your value. At the end of the process, you might be so excited to finally hit “publish” that optimizing your content for search engines may be the last thing on your mind.

But that’s a mistake, because there are some simple search engine optimization best practices for content that can amplify your efforts and help your compositions achieve maximum success. Marketers have the opportunity to get more eyeballs on their work by following a few simple steps that don’t take much time. In the end, you’ll have content that is ready to be indexed and delivered to searchers – hopefully for many years to come.

Strategies in search engine optimization abound, and each one is its own little bit of different. For anyone starting out, or without the time to become an SEO expert, it presents an issue. How do you know what advice is best and what you should do first?

In this post we will help you navigate SEO for content marketing by highlighting a few experts and their advice and tips. The bolded action items will help you identify the most important pieces of the SEO and content puzzle.

Complex projects such as topic modeling won’t be discussed, but we will focus on simplified high-level actionable items to add to your content marketing checklist. Hopefully this post will give you a good start on your content marketing and SEO journey.

1. Use keywords literally and deliberately.

2. Deliver more value than your audience expects.

3. Do it often and consistently.

— Ryan Hanley

Ryan Hanley’s three basic principles of content marketing and SEO are pretty spot on. His blog post about these basics is one worth delving into. Delivering value for your audience often and doing it consistently are incredibly important to your overall success. If you aren’t investing in creating valuable content, and acquiring the resources to do it often and consistently, these SEO best practices can still help you… but not as much as they could if you were truly investing in delivering value.


SEO SphereFirst on our checklist is Hanley’s principle of using keywords literally and deliberately. Keywords are the backbone of any SEO efforts, and without some organization and strategy, missed opportunities abounds.

First, choose a central keyword phrase when developing a content piece. Hanley suggests targeting long tail and mid-tail, which are over three words long. What are you writing about? Even if you just have a rough idea, take a guess as to what your phrase will be.

Next, review Google AdWords for keyword volume. Look for the best combination of the phrase you chose – something high volume but not too competitive. By looking up the metrics (which is a very quick process) you can narrow down on your central keyword phrase.

Finally, conduct a search of the central keyword phrase to help you see what you’re up against for your content piece. Do the search on your own site as well as a search engine, since you may have an existing piece of content about that topic that could compete with your efforts. If you find that one exists, switch up your central keyword phrase to a combination that doesn’t compete but adds support overall.

Keyword Placement

Keyword placement can be a bit tricky. Once you finally have that central keyword, an initial temptation is to go overboard integrating the exact verbatim phrase in your content. With a careful eye you’ll be able to add where the phrase with a human visitor in mind.

Use natural variations and synonyms to flesh out your content and provide added context and meaning to the search engines.

—Graeme Stiles, Gotta Quirk

In Graeme Stiles’ article about topic modeling and semantic search (found here), he shares the importance of adding contextual meaning to content. It’s not just about placing the central keyword everywhere on the page, it’s about varying and diversifying the integration of keywords.

If a blog post is about Valentine’s Day marketing tips, you might also integrate keywords such as “holiday marketing,” “romance,” “season of love,” “Valentine advertising ideas,” “email marketing,” or even “social media” (due to its relevance to the word “marketing”), “Valentine’s Day,” or both words together.

Once you have an idea of the diversity available and the semantic landscape, look to focus on the following meta areas under your control with the right plugins and access. Use central keywords and related keywords throughout the most important areas on the page (in no particular order, except for the meta title, which is the most critical):

The meta title is the single most important on-page SEO element (behind overall content).


  1. Meta title – ideally the meta title is a version of the title of your blog post or article. 50-60 characters is common, 512 pixel display maximum.
  2. URL – the URL is usually the title of your page, integrated into a long form permalink.
  3. Meta description – the meta description should be click-enticing, as it is presented to searchers in the search results directly. Related keywords can easily be interwoven.
  4. Meta keywords – although not essential, it is worth noting: do not overstuff your meta keywords. Either leave them out or use them sparingly. Overstuffing = spammy.
  5. Headings/H1-H3 – headings or H1, H2, and H3 tags are logically where headings and subheadings would go in written copy. SEOs recommend adding useful keyword phrases to these areas of a page and organizing your content with headings in mind.
  6. Image alt tags – any images on the page should have image alt tags, a descriptive text about the image. This helps search engines understand what the image is.
  7. File names – files uploaded to the page, such as images, video, and so on, should have the file name optimized with related keywords.
  8. Internal link – this is an opportunity to showcase another page on your site to readers. SEO best practice is to use anchor text that is descriptive of the page being linked to, ideally matching the central keyword for that page (what is in meta title and URL, for example). Find the best page to link internally – one that does not compete, but rather is related and supportive to your content.

These are the most important areas where keywords should be integrated on site. Both central theme keywords and related semantic terms are recommended. But remember, you want to make sure your content provides value to your audience. Period.

For more information on keyword research, take look at some of Act-On’s SEO resources:

A very basic yet useful SEO practice is to include links to external sources.

—Brynna Baldauf, Vertical Measures

My colleague, Brynna Baldauf, has been instrumental in on-page SEO for Vertical Measures and our clients. Her helpful advice brings up another important element of our checklist: external links. This option is often underutilized by content marketers, but it can be a great way to help add relevancy to your content. Brynna explains how:

“Often, the content produced by the marketers is excellent on its own but it lacks the necessary links within to create an authoritative voice – not only in the eyes of search engines but also for the reader. A very basic yet useful SEO practice is to include links to external sources as a means of giving reference to the content and also including yourself in a respected area of the web. By linking out to sources which seem to have authority and are relevant in the same space, such as a peer-reviewed article or a piece of timely industry news, there is a direct correlation drawn between the published link and the website it is published on. Over time, this simple practice not only helps readers to see the content as higher quality, it also helps the search engines determine that the website is of better quality overall by associating the site with the kinds of pages it links to.

Web analytics illustration“Just as an external link can help to add authority to a particular piece of content by using an outside reference, it is important to use an internal link to distribute the authority accrued in a piece of content to other places on the site. By using anchor text that is descriptive to the internal page, the marketer can help the search engines better understand what each page is about and learn which pages to associate with certain keywords the site may hope to rank for.”


An often-forgotten yet oh-so-important step is to think about measurement. Every marketing initiative you work on should have some form of measurability story to tell, something that shares the performance of a tactic or strategy. With all the information available through online platforms today, there’s always a way to track something. Think about the element of tracking search traffic and measuring results before you hit the publish button.

Focus first on what behaviors you want your content consumers to perform. Once you’ve done that and created content you think will drive the desired actions, you can start measuring the efficacy of your content program.

—Jay Baer, Convince & Convert

Jay, in his article on the four types of content metrics that matter, shares why content can’t be measured with a single metric. Creating an array of measurements will help set you up to observe the most well rounded performance.

And, finally, two  more things to measure:

  • Schedule a review of traffic information for content weekly, monthly, quarterly and/or yearly. Even if you don’t manage to review content every week, setting up a schedule is still recommended.
  • Review all traffic to content, not just search, to show the accurate picture of performance. Third party sites, social media and others naturally sharing your content are common referrals to look for.


Our checklist is pretty simple really. It’s a total of eight hard-hitting questions that will help you address important SEO elements we’ve discussed. With these tips and this checklist, you should be well on your way to starting the process of integrating SEO into your content marketing initiatives.

Did you …

  • choose one central keyword phrase?
  • check Google AdWords traffic?
  • Google the title of your article?
  • search your site for similar content?
  • optimize the meta title, description, images, URL and H1 headings?
  • add a link to an internal page of your website, not forgetting to use appropriate anchor text?
  • add a link to an external credible resource?
  • think about measurement and set up keywords in your ranking checker?

Answer these questions and you’ll be well on your way to making your content ready for SEO prime time.

New to SEO? Want to get off to a fast start? Take Act-On’s free SEO Crash Course and get more basics to bullet-proof your SEO efforts.