March 2, 2023
You’re smart and you have a content calendar to fill. You have a handful of topics that you’re planning to write about for your brand’s blog. Each one is broad enough to generate at least a handful of content pieces.
So… what should those pieces be? What titles will you assign to writers?
There’s a data-driven approach to making those decisions. It’s what we use in our agency work. You can use it too.
In this post we’ll walk through the steps:
- Finding the best possible keywords
- Refining your keyword list for relevance
- Aligning them with the steps in the buyer’s journey
- Creating titles that promise exactly what your readers need
Keywords vs titles
You can’t simply slap a keyword at the top of a blog post and call it a title. Most keywords are fragments of language. Your readers need more – and search engines are designed to give them what they want.
In our model, titles are informed by keywords. They’re also shaped by your brand priorities, sales funnel considerations, and your customers’ priorities.
So titles are more than keywords. That’s why the process we outline in the following section simply begins with keywords.
A quick breakdown of keywords vs titles…
Keywords are phrases that people type into search engines in order to locate specific pieces of content. They help to define what your content is about. They are also the phrases that your audience uses in a search query to discover content.
“Content performance analysis” is a keyword example.
Titles, on the other hand, are phrases that define a unique piece of content. A title on a blog post works in the same way as a title on any non-fiction book: it sums up the subject-matter and narrative angle of the piece, ideally providing clarity and intrigue for a reader.
“Getting started with content performance analysis – and what you need to know” is a title.
A note on topics vs keywords vs titles
Note: we recommend that you begin the following process with 3-5 topics already chosen. It’s not essential, but sticking to a few topics will enable you to work more efficiently, and start building organic search results more effectively.
Topics are the broadest category in this bunch. They identify subjects that your brand is interested in writing about.
To work with the previous example:
The topic, “content performance,” leads to…
The keyword, “Content performance analysis,” which leads to…
The title, “Getting started with content performance analysis – and what you need to know”
If you need help choosing topics, we recommend checking out other Ercule resources.
Step 1: Finding keywords with search tools
To start off, you’ll want to create a list of keywords that you could lead to useful blog posts for your audience. The point at this stage is to choose more keywords than you plan on using, that way we can refine the list later on to prioritize the best ones.
For each topic, aim for 20 keywords.
No matter your budget, you can leverage tools to figure out which keywords people are actively searching for.
- Keyword tools will provide detailed keyword lists and data, but there’s usually a fee involved
- Google will also provide you with query lists, for free, if you know how to use it. Though it won’t provide much data.
Let’s look at both groups…
Keyword tools like SEMrush or Moz can tell you how frequently a keyword is searched and how tough it is to rank for a given keyword.
Since these tools are designed for this exact purpose, they make it really easy to iterate on your topic ideas to find the keywords that are relevant to your audience and your brand’s value proposition.
You can type a phrase like, “content marketing,” into the tool and it will suggest keyword iterations on that phrase as well as adjacent terms that might also fit.
The pros of using these keyword tools:
- Comprehensive keyword generation
- Clear, reliable data on volume and competition
- Easy compiling and exporting for keyword lists
- Fees. They’re not the most expensive tools in the world, but the costs can add up quickly.
If you’re not in a position to invest in a keyword tool, you can get a surprising amount of insight from the Google search bar itself.
Google search bar suggestions list popular keywords that command search volume and are an easy place to mine suggestions for subjects.
You can enter a topic phrase into the search bar and, automatically, a list of longer-tail keyword phrases will appear.
“People also ask…” is another great element of the Google search page to use.
Scroll to the bottom of a search results page, and Google will show you other phrases that users have searched.
This option shows you what queries people are using to find your content. It also provides valuable insight as to which queries your competitors are ranking for.
Since Google isn’t particularly engineered for creating keyword lists, these methods are going to take you a little longer than it would with a tool like SEMrush.
The pros of using Google to generate keywords:
- Extensive lists
- It’s free
- No volume or competition data
- No list creation tools
- Time (it’s slow)
Step 2: Refining a keyword list for relevance
For each topic, you’ve now got about 20 keywords in a list. Hopefully, every one of them is already relevant to both your audience and your brand’s unique offering.
Now is the time to refine the list and prioritize the keywords that show the most potential for generating leads.
Adding relevance data
This is arguably the most important criteria. All the leads in the world won’t amount to much if the content you create isn’t relevant to them.
Relevance means: How likely is someone to convert if they land on your site after searching for that topic?
While this is a subjective question, you can still quantify the answer. Assign a relevance score of 1 to 3 to the keyword on your list, with 3 being the most relevant and 1 being the least relevant. Your list should only include the most relevant of keywords.
Prioritizing the most relevant keywords
Once you’ve added that metric to each keyword, highlight those with the highest score. Choose 5-7 of the best from that bunch. These will be the keywords that turn your into blog titles.
Note: if you’d like to further refine the list with volume and competition data, you can use our 3 Hour Keyword Strategy template.
Step 3: Aligning titles with the buyer’s journey
Now that you’ve got 5-7 of the most relevant possible keywords, you’re ready to assign them all to different stages in the buyer’s journey or sales funnel.
We’ll use a simple version of the funnel for this exercise:
This stage is where your audience first becomes aware of and gets familiar with a new challenge they’re facing.
At this stage, it’s all about education. Effective content at this stage helps people to better understand a challenge and explore options for overcoming the challenge.
Keywords that may indicate someone is in the awareness stage of their journey include:
- Questions that reflect a challenge (“how to get more blog readers” or “get more web traffic”)
- Questions about what or why (“what is content distribution,” “why is content promotion important,” or “benefits of content distribution”)
- People looking for examples (e.g. “content distribution examples”)
Once a buyer has an understanding of their challenge and the ways in which it could be solved, they start looking for solutions that best fit their specific situation.
Content in the consideration stage helps people to clearly define and evaluate their options. Teach them how to make the secret sauce to show them you’re the chef that really knows your stuff.
Keywords that may indicate a person is likely looking for consideration stage content includes:
- Searching for how to do something (“how to promote content”)
- Looking for types, methods, or ways to do things (“content distribution methods” or “ways to promote content”)
- Searching for templates (“content distribution plan template”)
- Searching for tools (“content promotion tools”)
Push has come to shove. Your buyer now understands their challenge and knows what sort of solution they want to invest in. Decision stage content makes it easier for a buyer to choose your product or service.
Search plays less of a role in decision stage content, as buyers are more likely to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations and explore existing vendor relationships. That said, searches that may indicate the searcher is in this decision stage include:
- Vendor comparisons (“Buffer vs. Hootsuite”)
- Searching for reviews (“Reviews of Mailchimp”)
- Searching for case studies or success stories (“Hootsuite case studies”)
Branded case studies with quantified results shine at this stage of the journey. Customer testimonials are also particularly effective (and the next best thing to a case study if you don’t have any of those).
But you might also consider content like:
- A buyer’s guide that details how to choose the best vendor
- An onboarding or implementation guide that shows how you’ll get started working together
- An interview with a client or customer that talks through their experience working with your or using your product
Step 4: Writing titles
The final stage of our process. You know where those keywords will fit. Now it’s time to adapt them into titles that will intrigue your target audience exactly where they are in their journey.
A few tips when crafting those titles
Keep the funnel in mind.
Top-funnel posts, for example, are answering introductory questions, which you can incorporate into blog titles.
- What is ____ ?
- Getting started with ______
- Challenges for _____
- Why you need ______
Check out the competition.
Before you start writing title ideas for a keyword, run that keyword through a Google search and see which titles are ranking at the top. This will give you a sense for the content that’s performing best – and the types of questions that readers need answered.
Keep it clear, simple, and focused on the reader.
Clarity will help you more than cleverness when it comes to blog post titles for the sales funnel. Search engines use your title to make sense of your page and align it with people’s search terms. An inside joke is only going to confuse them. The same principle holds true for your readers: they’re looking for quality answers to specific questions. If they want witty entertainment, they’ll probably just go to a TheOnion.com.
How Ercule can help
We believe that organic search is where B2B brands get the most bang for their buck.
If you want to chat about what’s possible with your content library, just give us a shout!
March 2, 2023
A topic is a phrase, or a category, that can generate numerous individual blog posts for a brand.
Once you’ve chosen a strong, relevant topic, you’ll decide on those individual posts within the topic. This is what’s often referred to as a “topic cluster.”
In this post, we’ll introduce you to topic strategy and how to start building your own:
- Topics vs keywords
- How topic strategies inform your content calendar
- What makes a good topic?
- Getting started with topic research
- Next steps
Why marketers use the topic cluster approach
This approach makes content marketing more efficient on all sides:
- Sales funnel. Choosing one core topic to generate numerous individual pieces is a clear way to make sure that every step of the sales funnel addresses this topic.
- SEO. Search engines value websites that are authorities on a given topic. You build that authority by publishing numerous pieces on a topic.
- Production. Each topic contains any number of individual posts. The three topics you choose today might fill out a content calendar for months to come.
- Distribution. When individual posts are aligned around a topic, they can be combined into larger projects, like an E-book. They can also be deconstructed for a social feed to position your brand as an authority.
Topics vs. keywords
Topics are not keywords. Topics are categories. Within these topics are numerous subjects that your content team will write about.
However, topics are informed by keyword research. Keywords are not the sole criteria for a strong topic, but if you’re trying to build content for organic search then keyword data will be a consideration. We’ll talk about that later.
Before you even get to that stage, you’ll need to conduct topic research based on your brand, its audience, and competitors. That’s what this blog post will focus on.
How topic strategies inform your content calendar
Topic research is not the beginning of a marketing strategy, but we think it is the beginning of a content strategy. It informs every step of the production process right up to publication.
The process looks like this:
- Topic research: compiling a list of potential topics for a strategy
- Integrating data: adding data from organic search volume, competition rates, and relevance
- Choosing topics: evaluating the list based on data and brand priorities
- Creating campaigns: prioritizing topics to begin creating content
- Creating content calendars: planning out individual pieces of content to produce and publish
What makes a good topic?
The ideal topic is specific enough to appeal to your specific audience, but broad enough to generate numerous blog posts.
For example, your product is a SaaS designed to help restaurants and bars balance their payroll expenses better. Let’s look at some examples of topics:
❌ “accounting software” – Too broad. This will attract accountants from any number of industries. That traffic isn’t valuable to you.
❌ “how to process gratuity for bartender paychecks” – This is specific to your industry and use cases, and would make a great blog post… but it’s too specific to be a topic. You can’t build a strategy around it.
✅ “service industry payroll software” – This is targeted to your industry but also broad enough to generate a cluster of posts.
Getting started with topic research
The first step in generating a topic list is researching your audience, think of this as a data-gathering exercise.
There are three areas you can start exploring today.
- Marketing materials
- Archived feedback
Some of the easiest and most useful places to mine topic intel are materials that are already in existence. For example:
- Brand website. What are the key phrases that appear in your value proposition, in customer testimonials, on your homepage, and your docs? How about the phrases used on the websites of your competitors?
- Product marketing materials. What phrases do you use to talk about your product? What category do you occupy? How do you want people to think about your product? What problems do you solve? And so on.
- Audience persona / Ideal customer profiles. Who is the target audience for your site? What is their job title? What are their primary jobs to be done? What makes their job difficult. If your company doesn’t have these questions already answered in a persona or ICP document? It’s worth asking around for it. They help focus efforts across the team.
The audience will tell you exactly what they want to read about. They’ve probably already told someone all about it. Your job is to find that information.
Two places where it may already exist:
- Online reviews. Review and comparison sites like G2 contain tons of detailed and brutally honest opinions from real users of your product and your competitors products. Read through them and jot down any phrases or pain points that seem to recur. Why did people choose these products? How are they using them? What are they struggling with?
- Demo calls. It’s common practice for sales teams to record the calls they have with clients. Ask around: does anyone at your company have those? Does the customer support team document their interactions at all? If not, they might let you listen in live on a few.
Again: the best information about your customers will come from customers themselves. If you have the time and access (and gumption) we highly recommend interviewing some customers yourself.
The insights you gain from asking them targeted questions are invaluable. If you can only ask a prospect or customer one thing, ask this:
What was going on in your day that brought you to this product or service?
It places them back in that moment and prompts them to think about their struggle—and that’s super valuable for your content. You want to produce content that helps your audience to overcome these challenges.
When we start a project like this for clients, we usually aim for up to 70 terms on a topic research list. But you don’t need to include that many on yours. Even 20 will do.
The next step is to refine the list – remove any phrases that still seem too narrow or too broad.
Once you’ve got a strong list of potential topics, you can import data for them. We generally look at three categories of data:
- Keyword volume
- Keyword competition
Keyword data gives you evidence of which topics people are actually searching for, and which ones are already dominated by the giants in your industry. Since the goal is to dominate SERP pages, you need to choose topics that will be seen and can potentially be won.
Relevance is a more subjective metric, but equally important to a content strategy. You’ll go through and assign each topic a quotient based on how important it is to your brand.
Ercule’s approach to topic strategy
This approach we’ve outlined here is very similar to the work we do at the outset of any client engagement.
We believe that the best topics are those that have a good balance between relevance, demand (keyword search volume), and supply (keyword competition).
We apply those same principles to choosing individual blog posts within a topic or campaign. Longtail keywords are a great resource for making those decisions.
But we also believe that any company should be able to use these methods, no matter their size or budget. That’s why we publish material like this, in hopes that anyone will decide to take the do-it-yourself approach.
February 20, 2023
Search traffic gets a bad rap – labeled as mere ‘vanity metrics’ by a lot of marketers.
But here’s the thing: you can’t convert any leads until people visit your website. In this way, search traffic is foundational to any effective content marketing strategy.
And there’s tons of quality content out there which never gets any meaningful amount of views. Sometimes a technical, back-end issue is to blame (and content marketers can’t do much about that). Just as often, it’s a content issue.
Countless B2B blogs contain well written pieces that simply aren’t aligned with the search intent of their readers. This is something that in-house content marketers can identify and fix. That’s what we’ll focus on in this post.
Why traffic matters
Ideally, we’d all be reporting on the exact number of leads generated by organic search. But, alas, we live in a fallen world. Attribution is complex and most companies don’t have any meaningful system set up for it.
Search traffic – pageviews especially – is the element of content performance over which a content marketer has the most control.
Traffic isn’t the only metric that matters, of course. But it is significant. And if you’re building a content program from scratch, traffic is going to be the only meaningful metric you can track for a while.
Why isn’t my page generating traffic?
If you want to better understand the cause of subpar traffic numbers, ask yourself the following three questions:
- Is it focused on a subject that people are searching for?
- Does it substantially answer the questions readers have?
- Can people actually find the page?
Is it a subject that people are searching for?
If you wrote the post simply because it was interesting to you… that’s not going to be enough.
You need to choose subjects that interest your audience. You can do that by targeting keywords that have significant search volume. (It also helps to choose keywords that aren’t too ferociously competitive.)
If the goal was to increase clicks on social, or email, the approach would be different. But when it comes to organic search, keyword data is your North Star.
At Ercule, we wrote a “Guide To Content Optimization” and it never got any significant traffic. We realized afterwards that hardly anyone was searching for the phrase “content optimization.”
But they were searching for this query: “How to increase search traffic.” So we decided to rewrite the post with this new angle. And that’s what you’re reading right this very moment.
Does it substantially answer the questions readers have?
This is the “intent” part of “search intent.” The post needs to address the specific concerns that readers have when they search a given term.
This manifests in a few ways:
- Acknowledging those questions
- Providing substantial answers
- Writing with quality and clarity on par with your competitors
The quick way to gauge intent is to search Google for your target query or keyword. Look at the top ranking pages. Do the pages use narrative angles that set them apart from competitors? Does the content have depth that your page lacks?
If you search the phrase “build a shopify store,” you’ll see some immediate commonalities among the top ranking pages. First off, the top ranked posts are dominated by Shopify itself. This is going to be a tough subject for your company to dominate on search.
Looking at the non-Shopify competitors, we see that they include step-by-step guidance for Shopify admin tasks – but they also address questions beyond that. They provide context on using Shopify stores and advice on how to prepare for the entire process. If you want to compete with these pages, your content will need to be pretty comprehensive.
Can people actually find the page?
There’s a technical aspect to any page’s baseline visibility. As a marketer, you won’t be able to fix all of these things, but they’re worth looking into, to make sure that your page has a fighting chance.
- Is the site speed okay? – Look out for any large images, uncompressed files, or lack of browser caching. Drop a URL into Google’s PageSpeed tool to verify this.
- Is it indexed? A page needs to be indexed in order for Google to see that it exists at all. If your traffic is at zero, then it’s worth looking into.
A marketer does have some control over engagement and distribution issues:
- Is it being distributed? Are you talking about it on social media, or even mentioning it? That’s part of the view also. Remember the rule - create once, distribute forever.
- Is it linked to other pages on your site that are relevant? – Make sure to properly link the page with relevant content from your site.
Use these metrics to understand why traffic is down
So you already know that traffic numbers are down. We’ll look at these alternative data to figure out why those traffic numbers are down:
- Search rank metrics
- Impressions & Clicks
- Bounce rate
Search rank metrics
Log in to Google Search Console. How well is your page ranking for relevant queries?
A page ranked at position 1 gets exponentially more views than a page at position 3. Similarly, there’s a huge difference between ranking in position three and position 10.
If you’re ranking number 15 for a relevant keyword, that’s a good sign, but you need to get that post way up. You can do this by revising the content to be as useful, readable, and thorough as those pages ranking above you.
If you’re ranking well for your target query, but the query doesn’t get much search volume, then you may have tapped out on the potential of that subject. Consider adapting the page for an adjacent subject that has higher search volume.
If you’re not ranking for anything relevant, then you probably need to rebuild the page from the ground up.
Clicks & Impressions
Clicks and impressions aren’t a huge deal on their own but, when analyzed together, can give you a sense for how compelling your page is when it’s presented on a search engine results page. (You can get all of this data from Search Console.)
Clicks tell you how many times people actually clicked on your search listing. You can get this data from Google Analytics. Impressions tell you how many times a page has shown up in search. In other words, the most possible clicks you could have gotten.
Divide the impressions number by the clicks number to get click-through rate.
A high click-through rate means that people find your Google listing compelling. The title is relevant and the meta description is intriguing. Not much to fix here.
A low click-through rate means that your title and meta description need work. The title is especially important. Again, this is a search intent issue. Check out your top-ranking competitors to see how they’re presenting.
Engagement & bounce rates
You’ll find both of these in Google Analytics. They both tell you the same thing, from different angles.
Engagement rate measures how often a visitor spends significant time with your page and clicks through to other parts of your site. Bounce rate is the inverse of engagement rate: how often people left the page without doing any of those things.
If people are not engaging with your page, Google takes notice. Engagement rates affect search ranking. The best thing you can do to improve your engagement is to align with search intent as we described above.
Tips for increasing page traffic
You’ve consulted the data, identified the weak spots in a given page. Here are four strategies for optimizing:
- Choose a viable keyword
- Align with search intent
- Revise to meet the competition
- Optimize for click-through
Choose a viable keyword
There are different schools of thought on how to choose keywords for organic content. We’re big believers in the search data approach. Specifically, aiming for relevant keywords that have substantial traffic and are not prohibitively competitive.
Other teams might suggest aiming for long-tail keywords that have lower search volume but speak to higher intent.
Regardless of your method, you need to choose some keyword, and do it strategically with a tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs.
Align with search intent
First, understand the search intent of a keyword by reviewing the top ranking pages.
Based on what you find there, you might decide to revise a page to meet that search intent. You might also decide that your existing page is better aligned with a different query.
For example, let’s say you sell accounting software. Your blog post is ranking 15th for the query, “accounting software.”
The pages that rank above yours are top-funnel, introductions to the idea of accounting software. Your page is more focused on the process of assessing an accounting firm’s software needs. You might instead optimize the post for a query that fits better – something like, “how to choose accounting software.”
Revise content to meet the competition
The goal is to make it as useful as possible for the target audience. Check out the top ranking pages to see what they’re doing right – and also what they’ve overlooked.
You might find that some key talking points have been ignored by these pages. That’s a great opportunity to differentiate your page.
Make notes about all of these content quality issues and address every one of them in your rewrite. And don’t talk about your brand too much! That’s a big mistake marketers make. Stay focused on the reader and their needs.
Optimize for search (SEO)
Search engine optimization is not a fast track to page one of search results, but the finer details will help you edge out competition.
- Update the page title and heading tags to meet Google’s recommendations. Make it easier for search engines to see, comprehend, and promote you.
- Update the meta description. Each Google result is like a little ad for your content, so make yours descriptive and engaging.
- Include relevant internal links on your site’s page. It’s an effective way to improve a site’s visibility.
How Ercule can help
We believe that organic search is where B2B brands get the most bang for their buck.
As an agency, we help brands monitor performance and strategically update pages every day. But we also want to make those processes accessible to anyone.
So we created the Ottimo app to make it a breeze for marketers to figure out which pages are really delivering, which ones have room for improvement, and which ones just aren’t cut out for it.
If you want to chat about what’s possible with your content library, just give us a shout!
February 14, 2023
A founder’s tale by Dylan Stark
When we started the Ercule agency in 2015, we set out to help clients with every type of marketing. We were doing SEO, content creation, ad management on every platform, account based marketing, PR, guest blogs… everything. It was exhausting.
We asked ourselves: which of these tactics actually has the best return on investment? It was surprisingly difficult to answer. After a year of instrumenting tracking for dozens of clients we started to see one trend.
At the end of the day, for our B2B clients, the most honest bang for their buck was always organic search.
So our agency followed that course and we’re still following it. Over the years we’ve hammered out a handful of reliable formulas and processes that consistently help our clients increase engagement with organic search. Eventually, we thought…
Why isn’t there an app to do this already?
Everyone on a sales team uses Salesforce every day. They have to. It makes success measurable and clear. Content marketers don’t quite have that yet. If you’re a content marketer, it’s likely you’re looking in a slew of places to write, publish and analyze content. Docs, Google Analytics, your CMS and probably a couple of spreadsheets at the very least.
With Ottimo, we want to build a home base for web content. A place that content marketers could go every day to take a look across their campaigns and prioritize their next steps.
They should be able to glance at their content library and know this one’s doing bad, this one’s doing good, this one needs updating. And they shouldn’t have to pay us to go out and spend hours digging across platforms just to understand that and know what to do next.
A (completely true) cautionary tale
A few years back we worked with a software company that had a team of very, very talented writers who published three pieces of new blog content every week. They always checked in on their total site traffic in Google Analytics, but eventually they asked us: exactly how well are our blog posts doing?
The answer to that question was… painful.
About 95% of the posts on their blog stopped receiving any traffic after their first week. That meant hundreds of blog posts and thousands of writing hours were going to waste.
It hurts to tell a writer that. It wasn’t their fault but I felt like our data was going to get somebody fired. They were excellent writers taking on interesting topics, but they never had a solid content strategy and there was nowhere they could go to easily understand which posts were doing well and which were floundering.
The gap between performance data and library management
On one hand, content teams often manage existing content with platforms like Notion and Asana, which are both awesome and, at their core, very smart spreadsheets. On the other hand, they’re using data tools like Google Analytics and Search Console to monitor performance.
Teams needed the interactive views of a platform like Notion but also needed granular traffic data to understand what to do with their content. Internally we were using a very effective but also very complicated spreadsheet that still didn’t empower content marketers to do this work without.
Showing clients how to import traffic data and use the spreadsheet themselves was cumbersome. So we started working on Ottimo.
How we’re using Ottimo today
The Ercule team uses Ottimo every day for our client engagements. When somebody asks about a page’s performance on a call, we can go to Ottimo in just a few seconds and see traffic, search metrics, page content and page speed all in one place.
So we’re able to answer important questions at a faster clip. Ottimo gives us the data we need to tell clients whether a page has any traction, or which keywords it’s ranking for. No more jumping between multiple tools to answer those questions – it’s all in Ottimo.
It’s the start of what we hope is a permanent home base for content marketers. Something you can look at every day. Sift through in different ways. Export data visualizations before a meeting.
And Ottimo is opinionated, which was really important to us. Other marketing tools like Hubspot and Google Analytics are often black-boxes that show a bunch of data but don’t offer any real advice on how to act on it. We’ve been working to turn everything we’ve learned as an agency into actual, actionable insights.
Long term, the goal is to keep building out this home base for content marketers. We’re working to make our recommendations even smarter and down the road we expect to have a broader suite of tools for every part of the content pipeline – from coming up with a topic to understanding how much business that content generated.
That’s our full content pipeline dream. If you think that’s cool, Ottimo is free to use and we’d love to hear what you think about it :)
January 23, 2023
We use an SEO checklist to finalize all written content. This includes new material as well as older, published pieces that need a refresh.
Now we’re sharing that same checklist with you.
What’s in this SEO checklist
The checklist addresses the core areas for optimization:
- Meta tags
- H-tags and subheadings
- Calls To Action
We’ll dive into the importance of each one farther down in this post.
What this SEO checklist can do for your content team
It prepares every piece of content for better performance in organic search. The tasks in the checklist will prepare your content to be…
- More visible to search engines
- More accessible to readers
- More targeted for the keywords that matter to your brand
It helps on the production end too. This checklist will routinize your optimization process in a few different ways…
- It’s comprehensive. All core SEO areas are covered in this one checklist.
- It’s focused. This is not an audit checklist for an entire site. (If that’s what you want, you can use our site audit guide.) Instead, this is a list of the details for publishing written content.
- It’s teachable. The directions are clear enough for you to hand off the task to people with less experience or context, like junior staff or freelancers.
How the checklist approaches these SEO elements
When we use this checklist, we start at the top and make our way down to the bottom, item by item.
Here’s a quick look at how each area covered here is useful for optimizing search performance.
- Metadata. This includes the bits of data that search engines need to identify your page and understand what it’s about.
- Subheadings. H2 and H3 tags need to be in service of the reader, supporting the structure of the argument while also aligning with target keywords.
- Linking. Internal and external linking has a huge influence on conversion rate optimization. Linking strategically to different pages in the sales funnel. Choosing external links sparingly, only for the most relevant (and evergreen) pages.
- Images. Images can be tricky in terms of file size, relevance, and accessibility. A useful image is an accessible image that helps clarify the written content – and doesn’t slow down your page speed.
- Calls To Action. CTAs can have an outsized effect on your conversion rate. The success of CTAs is affected by three components: language, placement, linking.
- Copy. Eliminating fluff, clarifying vagaries, cutting dated references, with the goal of creating the most clear, useful, evergreen content possible.
Ercule’s approach to content optimization and SEO
Our goal with optimization is to systemize and simplify the technical side of content performance so that marketers can spend more energy on the creative and strategic sides of marketing.
For generating new content…
This means a topic strategy that’s backed up by search data. It ends with the kind of detail-oriented optimization covered by the checklist.
For revising material that’s already published…
This means identifying the posts that show the most potential for improvement and ROI.
We built the Ottimo app for that purpose, so marketers can easily identify the pages that are performing well, those that could boost performance, and those that will probably never improve.
Want to talk about the possibilities for your content library? Drop us a line
January 16, 2023
To figure out what’s working, what’s struggling, and which areas show the most potential in your content program, you need data.
There are lots of slick analytics tools out there, and many of them provide interesting data… but which ones do you absolutely need?
In this post, we’ll explore that question.
The answer begins not with brands but with the types of data you need to track. Once we’ve laid out the data you need, we’ll suggest particular tools to track it.
We’ll focus on analytics for organic search performance (as that’s our specialty).
What content marketing analytics tools do you really need?
Before you can optimize any organic search content, you need data on the page’s fundamental performance.
To do this, we recommend five use cases:
- Web analytics – How many people are finding your site? What are they doing once they arrive?
- Search queries – How is the page being found in search?
- Keyword research – Which keywords are resonating with your audience?
- Heat mapping – What parts of the individual page are showing the most engagement
- Library management – What are the trends across your site?
We’ll look at each of those use cases and which tools help the most.
Criteria for choosing a content marketing analytics tool
Before we jump into the weeds with brand comparisons, a quick note about the tool evaluation process. Especially for small teams, and limited budgets, it’s important to find things that fit some very basic criteria:
- You can use it – It’s accessible.
- You will use it – It’s easily integrated and requires minimal time investment.
- You can afford it – Simple rule for this one: don’t sign up for annual plans.
- It provides the specific data you need – Simple data you use is better than complex data you never use.
Which content marketing tools should you try?
We’ll look at each use case, its importance, popular options for tools, and Ercule’s personal preference.
This is brass tacks for any content performance analysis.
There is Google Analytics, and then there’s everything else: Fathom, Piwi, Matomo are a few popular examples.
Why we use Google Analytics
First-party alternatives have their virtues (and often their UX is more inviting than Google’s). However, the most reliable search data is coming from the search platform.
You need to see what queries people are using to find your pages. Which queries are your competitors dominating?
Google Search Console is the big dog in this world. Other content marketing tools like Moz, Ahrefs, or SEMrush can pipe in that data.
Why we use Google Search Console
This is Google’s own data directly from the source. It’s a necessary supplement to Google Analytics because GA doesn’t provide data about queries or branded vs. unbranded traffic.
Keyword data will show you which terms people are actually interested in. A keyword tool can tell you how frequently a keyword is searched and how tough it is to rank for a given keyword.
The three biggest brands in the keyword tool market are: Moz, Ahrefs, SEMrush. Each one has its own bespoke formula for generating data. None of these (excellent) keyword tools are authoritative. Each of them is approximating in their own way.
Why we use SEMrush
Keyword tool selection is largely a matter of personal preference. User experience is a big factor – you should choose a tool that allows you to get what you want with relative ease. These platforms all offer different ancillary features that might appeal to your particular use case.
We use SEMrush because, honestly, we’ve been using it for a long time. The interface is familiar. We use it almost purely for the data. We collect data, then export it. That’s it.
Getting pages to actually convert is a challenge for any marketer. Heat maps make conversion rate optimization amazingly accessible. They show you the areas on a page that attract the most attention.
Three brands that are popular among our content marketing peers: Hotjar, CrazyEgg, Microsoft Clarity.
Why we use Microsoft Clarity
It’s reliable and it’s free. Sometimes this is reason enough to try a tool.
As your content library matures, every piece within it must be maintained, updated, optimized. It’s a continuous cycle. To complete it strategically, and at scale, you need a way to easily locate, compare, and sort content according to strategic metrics.
Ottimo and… honestly? That’s about it. People are doing this important work on their own with an improvised series of spreadsheets and GA data.
Why we created Ottimo
Ottimo enables us to provide the kind of strategic content management that we simply couldn’t find in existing tools. For example: sorting libraries by traditional performance metrics as well as qualitative considerations like topic strategy and keyword usage.
The Ottimo approach
Ottimo helps marketers strategize and optimize content based on clear analytics and recommendations.
Integrating data from Google Analytics and Google Search Console, Ottimo highlights the metrics that content marketers actually need – and cuts out the rest.
Wrapped into a user-friendly platform, Ottimo enables marketers to track and improve content performance across their site.
Identify, prioritize, and execute on opportunities in your existing content library with Ottimo.
If you only have time to assemble the very beginnings of a content analytics suite, we highly recommend you start with web analytics – also known as page analytics. Set up a Google Analytics account for your site and – most importantly – make sure that it works.
(You’d be stunned by how many companies have a huge website and yet a Google Analytics account that isn’t generating any data because of some small but fundamental error.)
If you’re looking to make decisions between any of the brands we mentioned above, check out the customer reviews on G2. Ask your peers in the marketing community – on social or in real life – about the tools they use. And as always, feel free to send us any questions!
January 9, 2023
The wealth of available performance data can actually feel like an impairment.
For small content marketing teams especially, deciding where to start can feel like the hardest part. You want data that’s insightful but also accessible and actionable for your situation.
We recommend starting simple. Everything you really need to know comes down to two types of data:
- Page analytics
- Pipeline analytics
In this post, we’ll look at specific metrics you can track within those groups.
Why marketers need to track content analytics
Data is crucial to every step of content marketing production. Seriously. (Even the groundwork for a content strategy – topics to focus on, subjects to write about – requires data-driven research.)
Analytics enable you to do the following:
- Leverage the posts that generate leads and convert
- Flag the posts that are lagging behind
- Fill gaps in the sales funnel
- Optimize old content
- Iterate on the current strategy
- Prove the value of content marketing to stakeholders
And you can do those tasks quite well with relatively simple data. It’s just a matter of knowing how to find it and what to do with it.
These metrics are important: you can’t optimize conversion rates on your page if no one can find it to begin with.
Page analytics tell you about the health of a given page by answering some basic performance questions:
- How often are people finding your page?
- How interested are they once they find it?
This data can be retrieved from Google Analytics (GA). (You can also use our free content analytics app, Ottimo.)
Generally, we recommend that marketers break their organic content metrics into two categories: traffic metrics and engagement metrics.
This data tells you how often your content is showing up in search results and whether or not users find the content interesting enough to click.
This is baseline data: it speaks to the fundamental health and visibility of the content on your site. For in-depth explanations of what those metrics tell you and how to use them, check our guide to traffic analytics.
This data measures activity on a page – specifically: what people do after seeing the content.
This data gives you a basic sense of user experience. With this data you can start revising content-keyword alignment, page speed, and other structural issues.
For a deeper dive on how to use this data, check out our guide to engagement metrics.
Millions of pageviews aren’t worth much if that traffic isn’t generating business. Pipeline analytics (sometimes called revenue analytics) will connect the dots more directly between content and revenue.
With the right tech stack, you can answer questions at the intersection of marketing and sales:
- What channels are bringing in viable customers?
- Which pages do they visit on their path to conversion?
- Where are customers converting most often?
Companies typically track pipeline with a CRM like Hubspot or Salesforce. Setup requires a greater investment than you’ll spend on page analytics. On the upside, it produces the kind of data that C-suite folks can really sink their teeth into.
Generally, we break pipeline analytics into three main categories:
When you track a lead, you’re tracking anyone who has given you their email address, and is worth sales’ time to talk with.
Lead tracking helps marketers answer important questions about their organic content performance:
- How are people finding you in organic search?
- Is your content useful for the right audience (i.e. potential buyers)?
An Opportunity might also be called a “Deal”. It’s a lead whose interaction with you has progressed to the point that they are thinking seriously about signing a contract.
Even though you don’t have total control over this stage of the buying process – since by this point they’ve had several interactions with sales – this is a number that’s frequently used to measure the success of marketing teams.
This is, of course, the bottom-line. Revenue related to content marketing analytics come from a marketing or customer relationship automation tool.
Platforms like Salesforce and Hubspot pull in website data like traffic sources and actions taken, translating those numbers into insights and attributing revenue to organic search.
You have the least control over this number – it depends heavily not just on your content attracting the right prospects, but on Sales running a successful process with them. However, revenue your content has sourced – or influenced – is a great number to have access to.
Page vs. pipeline analytics: what should you start with?
We recommend companies implement page analytics first. Three reasons why:
- You can’t really track revenue/pipeline until you have traffic.
And you can’t really generate traffic until you understand what’s working and what isn’t.
- You won’t get much ROI on platforms like Hubspot or Salesforce until you have a substantial pipeline to track.
- Page analytics have a lower barrier to entry.
If you’re building a content program from scratch, this is a real factor.
Revenue analytics are vital, of course! Especially for marketers. But setting up attribution systems is no small task. Especially for small teams.
So don’t drive yourself nuts trying to do everything at once.
A simple plan you actually use is better than a complex one you never do.
Ercule’s approach to content analytics
Analytics can feel like a chore for marketers (though we think it’s fun) – so we created an app that anyone can use to track organic search performance: Ottimo.
Ottimo helps marketers strategize and optimize content based on simple, clear analytics and recommendations. Totally free. No strings attached.
For our agency clients we take the lead on the technical side of content marketing. This way they can focus on broader creative and strategic concerns (ie. the more fun stuff).
In the early stages, this often means a few parallel tasks:
- Diagnostic audit of website performance
- Assessment of infrastructure for data tracking
- Inventory of the existing content library
- Research and discovery for strategic topics
In other words we start…
- Optimizing a site so that people can actually find and use it
- Making sure that data is being accurately tracked
- Figuring out what content we can leverage in the existing library
- Building a data-driven content strategy for organic search
If you’d like to chat about any of these topics, drop us a line any time!
January 3, 2023
Bounce rate is no longer an essential engagement metric in Google Analytics. It has been functionally replaced by a new metric: engagement rate.
We used to track engagement rate as, simply, the opposite of bounce rate:
- If a page’s bounce rate was 87%, that meant that 13% of visitors engaged.
Engagement rate = 13%.
- If a page’s bounce rate was 30%, then 70% of visitors engaged.
Engagement rate = 70%.
But engagement rate has evolved. It’s much more precise in GA4. You can still, technically, measure bounce rate. But don’t do that. This post will explain why.
This post will look at…
- Bounce rate vs engagement rate
- What happened in the switch from GA3 to GA4
- Why we think you should start focusing more on engagement rather than bounce
What is bounce rate?
Bounce rate is measuring how frequently visitors ‘bounce’ from a given page. That is: how frequently they land on a page and then leave your site without ever viewing another page on the site or taking any other action.
Somebody searches a term on Google, then clicks on your link in the search results page.
They look at your page, decide it’s not what they’re looking for, and click back to their search results.
What does bounce rate mean for marketers?
Generally, people see bounce rate as an important engagement metric for the quality of their content. If a page on your site has a high bounce rate, this often indicates that the content quality of your website isn’t satisfying.
People can bounce from your website for a variety of reasons:
- It doesn’t meet the searcher’s intent
- Poor quality content
- UX was confusing
- No internal links or CTA
Bounce rate in GA3 vs GA4
In GA3 (also known as Universal Analytics), bounce rate is calculated as the number of bounces over the number of sessions.
Bounce rate = bounces [divided by] sessions
In GA4, however, bounce rate is calculated differently. It’s the inverse of engagement rate.
Bounce rate = 1 [minus] engagement rate
It’s the same thing, but that equation tells you everything you need to know about this metric’s place in the GA4 hierarchy: bounce rate is now an afterthought. Engagement rate is the new star of the show.
How to view bounce rate in GA4
Sign in to your GA4 account and follow these instructions:
- On the left-hand sidebar, click on Reports > Pages & Screens.
- Click on the ‘Pencil’ icon on the top to edit the report.
- Click on Metrics > Add metrics.
- Find bounce rate in the drop-down list and select it. After organizing in your desired order, click on the Apply button.
- Bounce rate is now added to your reports. Click on the Save button.
In GA4, you can still measure bounce rate but it doesn’t appear by default. You need to use the customization method to measure the bounce rate on that particular page.
What is engagement rate in GA4?
According to Google, an engaged session is a session that fits at least one of the following criteria:
- Lasts longer than 10 seconds
- Has a conversion event
- Has at least 2 pageviews or screenviews
Somebody searches a term on Google, then clicks on your link in the search results page. They scroll around your page for maybe 15 seconds then click back to their search results. This is registered as an engaged session.
Alternately: they click onto your page, and immediately click on the button labeled “Free Demo.” This is also registered as an engaged session (so long as you’ve set up that “Free Demo” link as a conversion event).
What does engagement rate mean for marketers?
A high engagement rate means that your page is set up for decent baseline engagement. The fundamentals are strong.
It enables insights about the same areas as bounce rate:
- Search intent
- Content quality
- Internal links
How to view engagement rate in GA4
Sign in to your GA4 account and follow these instructions:
- On the left-hand sidebar, click on Reports > Acquisition.
- Click on User acquisition.
- A new screen will open where you can view engagement rates and other data.
How the calculation has improved
In addition to changing the focus from bounces to engagements, the calculation is correcting some of bounce rate’s biggest oversights.
Considering for time spent on the page
Bounce rate failed to factor in the time a person spent on a page – even if someone stayed for 10 minutes and read your page really thoroughly. Unless that reader continued on to another link on your site, the session would be registered as a bounce (ie. saying that the reader was not engaging with the page).
That type of labeling isn’t very accurate.
Engagement rate in GA4 does take time-on-page into consideration. If a visitor stays on the page longer than 10 seconds, it counts as an engaged session.
Tracking actual engagement
Engagement rate factors in actual engagement as well, regardless of time on page. If a visitor triggers an event that GA detects as a conversion, this will also count as an engaged session.
Bounce rate did not have this level of sophistication. It simply noted whether or not you clicked to another page.
How Ercule can help
We love Google Analytics, but we also know that many marketers think of it as a chore. There’s a daunting amount of valuable metrics in there, and the user interface isn’t exactly welcoming.
So we created an app that streamlines data collection and content performance management. It’s called Ottimo. It’s totally free. No strings attached.
Do you need more hands-on help with your content performance metrics? We implement performance trackers, content strategy, and library management for clients every day. Send us a note with your latest dilemma and we’ll do our best to help.
December 13, 2022
We’re perpetually refining our tactics, tools, and operations at Ercule.
Yet all of our pursuits are guided by a few core principles:
- Good SEO makes all of your marketing better
- An authoritative content library is worth the investment
- Your work is valuable, and you can prove it
- Content marketing means building an engine
- Build your library brick by brick
These practical beliefs come through years of scintillating client engagements, rollicking successes, and humbling failures.
In this post, we’ll dive into each principle.
Good SEO makes all of your marketing better
Looking for an excuse to do great marketing?
Good SEO means you have to:
- Build a content strategy that speaks to your customers’ jobs to be done and paint points – and your brand’s value prop, features, and differentiators
- Write consistently, clearly, and thoughtfully for humans and machines.
- Reuse and repurpose so that you cover all the angles your customers care about.
- Know your audience, and distribute your content to the places they’ll find it.
- Focus your website on user experience.
- Provide clear paths forward to conversion and use of your product.
An authoritative content library is worth the investment
A content library is a powerful and enduring asset. Visitors remember, and go back to, content that helped them. So does Google.
Unlike any other channel, high-quality content continues to generate traffic and leads for you without constant maintenance or spend. And the more content you have, the easier it is to reuse, repurpose, and expand to generate even more.
Your work is valuable, and you can prove it
Content takes a long time to build, and doesn’t always convert people right away. But we have the tools to show us what’s working, and what isn’t, and whether we’re headed in the right direction. Learning to use these tools isn’t easy, but with the right training, you can (and should!) get the data that proves your contribution to the business.
Content marketing means building an engine
Content marketers don’t just write articles – they build and run content engines. A well-running engine is constantly improving, and requires people, process, resources, analytical, and technical skills to make it work.
A content engine lets you get efficiently from an idea to a published article that generates traffic and leads. It also extensively re-uses, re-imagines and builds on the content you already have to get to the content your customers need.
Build your library brick by brick
Every bit of content you have can be mashed up, combined, remixed, and reused to produce brand new assets, and to promote and distribute across all your channels.
Content creation doesn’t mean writing masterpieces. It means publishing what you can, finding the good stuff, and building more and more of that in an iterative process. Iterate on what’s working, look for positive signals, go back to your metrics, and use them to know what people want to hear more about.
Continuing the conversation
Those five principles inform everything we create at Ercule.
Currently, we structure our work around three core services, designed to elevate your marketing team at every step along the way:
We always love to learn about different approaches to strategy, production, and performance. Drop us a line any time to continue the conversation.