Content marketing and SEO go hand in hand, but instead of being linked — like holding hands should be — they’re often treated as separate entities and assembled as an afterthought. SEO specialists sprinkle in keywords and add title tags and meta descriptions, while the marketers brainstorm content ideas to push out week after week.

Content optimisation marries the two ideas, creating a seamless piece of content that not only draws in consumers but the search engines as well. To optimise content and ensure its success, marketers and SEO specialists must work together and form a cohesive content optimisation plan.

The Struggle With Content

Most businesses have found the value of online content, with the majority looking to use content to increase lead generation, improve customer engagement and increase brand awareness, according to Ascend2’s State of Content Marketing Survey. Only 20% of respondents said that search ranking improvement was the most important goal of content marketing, and yet so many still put emphasis on satisfying SEO “requirements” or going viral that they lose sight of the overall strategy.

Nearly half of the respondents also reported that the biggest hurdle they face is a lack of effective strategy and content creation resources. But when they do it right, including having a well-defined content management process, businesses see higher conversion rates — nearly six times higher than those without a content marketing strategy, says Aberdeen Group — and higher levels of trust.

Advanced Content Optimization

Content marketers must begin their research long before any SEO tactics come into play. During many content brainstorming sessions, ideas are simply thrown out there — vaguely related to some keywords — and put on the calendar without any consideration towards the actual interests or needs of the consumer.

Match the customer’s position in the purchase funnel

Creating content that targets consumers based on their position in the purchase funnel helps them along their journey. They will discover that your brand is interested in helping them make a decision, not just convincing them your product is the best.

In the first stage of the customer journey, the brand is looking to build awareness; content that is too specific won’t resonate with readers in this stage. Blog posts about the industry, webinars, videos, and other educational content first inform the customer about the general product category, which can help usher them into the next stage.

Customers in the second stage begin to consider what they want; this is where content becomes more specific, such as case studies of your product and detailed how-to guides. The final stage, in which the customer decides to make the purchase, includes content such as reviews and product descriptions. Some SEO tactics are naturally built into this step — researching keywords, specifically long-tail keywords, can offer insight into what users in each particular stage are searching for.

Address the customers’ needs

Data has become an integral part of the content marketing process. Types of data can influence a number of aspects of content marketing, ranging from the timing of the posts (when are your target customers most active online?) to what they’re doing on social media (what type of content are they sharing the most?). Create and post content that they’ve shown interest in or answer questions they’ve asked.

SEO strategies are again useful here: review your competitors to see what kind of content they post and how well it performs, using backlink analysis and social media tools to track what has trended the most.

Establish thought leadership

Becoming a thought leader in your industry isn’t as simple as creating a series of blog posts. It requires real data, expertise, and the willingness to commit both creatively and financially to creating unique, innovative content. Thought leadership establishes trust, an important factor for consumers, and authority, an important factor for search engines — perfectly marrying SEO and content marketing.

Thought leadership can be established by undertaking unique research about your industry, conducting experiments, and sharing the results. For example, many businesses create infographics with data gleaned from other sources. While these are more quickly and easily made, the data is always attributed to someone else. When you supply the data, others will refer back to you — establishing your brand as the source of knowledge.

While it’s good to own your content, thought leaders welcome the ideas of others; it’s how they innovate. Partner with others in the industry, even your competitors, by sponsoring or hosting events, research projects, and other collaborative efforts. Your brand is the one leading the charge toward innovation.

Companies can use the CEO and other executives as the voice behind all produced content, putting a face to the thought leader and boosting the level of trust. The Social CEO study from Weber Shandwick showed that a majority of executives from companies with socially active CEOs believe it “enhances [the company’s] credibility in the market” (69% of executives) and “shows that [the] company is innovative” (76%). A 2016 study of US employees showed that 75% found brands with socially active C-suite executives more honest and trustworthy — and consumers like to buy from brands they trust.

SEO and content marketing shouldn’t battle it out for importance, or trail behind the other. It is a collaborative effort of two ideas — moving up the search engine results and moving in front of consumers — with overlapping strategies that create one cohesive content optimization plan.