Which Content Marketing Strategies Have the Biggest Impact on Keyword Rankings?

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The term “content marketing” is a wide umbrella.

It encompasses a plethora of different strategies and techniques.

But at the end of the day, one of your primary goals is to create content that ranks as highly as possible on search engine results pages (SERPs).

This is important because organic traffic is the number one means of generating traffic for many companies.

A study from The Bright Edge even “found that organic search drives 51 percent of all visitors to B2B and B2C websites trumping all other non-organic channels.”

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This means one thing.

You need to figure out the relationship between content marketing strategies and keyword rankings.

This is instrumental in fine-tuning your content marketing campaign and finding the right areas to focus on.

In this post, I analyze data from multiple studies and draw on my own knowledge and experience to give you a clear idea of the content strategies demanding the most attention.

So, let’s see which strategies have the biggest impact on keyword rankings.

Rich content

I won’t waste your time telling you about the importance of creating quality content.

You already know that.

But I’d like to share with you this statistic from an infographic on Quick Sprout:

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That’s a lot of links!

And I’m sure you know the integral role links play in SEO.

This graph from Moz illustrates the importance of links and their influence on Google’s algorithm:

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Let’s put this information together.

When you create rich content, it gets you more links.

These links improve your overall SEO, which improves your rankings.

So, being diligent about achieving and maintaining rigorous quality standards should be of the utmost concern.

Long-form content

Here’s the deal with long-form content.

It’s hot right now. Scorching hot.

I remember a few years ago when your average blog post was only somewhere around 500 words.

But if you look at the vast majority of content that ranks on page one of Google SERPs today, it’s rare that you’ll find anything under 1,000 words.

To prove just how important long-form has become, I would like to show you a couple of graphs.

The first is from a fairly old (September 2012) article I wrote on Quick Sprout.

I got the data from research performed by SerpIQ:

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As you can see, every single piece of content that ranked on the first page had at least 2,000 words.

More specifically,

The first result typically has 2,416 words and the 10th result has 2,032 words.

Newer research (September 2016) from Brian Dean of Backlinko shows a similar pattern:

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According to his research,

The average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890.

That’s over 500 words fewer than the original research from SerpIQ indicated back in 2012…526 to be exact.

But it still shows us long-form content is a key element in achieving solid rankings.

Why is this so?

The way I look at it, there are two main reasons for this phenomenon.

First, people have a tendency to scan through content these days.

Few actually sit down and read a 2,000-word piece word for word in its entirety.

Instead, they scan through and look at the sub-headers that grab their attention and may read little snippets of text from there.

Long-form content facilitates this new method of reading.

Second, a longer word count tends to translate into more links.

And this makes sense.

The more content you provide, the more opportunities for it to be linked to.

Put all this together, and you can see that long-form content means higher rankings.

Who knows, the whole “long-form content bubble” may pop in a few years.

But it’s stronger than ever at the moment.

However, it appears that the ideal word count has been reduced considerably, and you should aim for just south of 2,000 words.

How do you create 2,000-word content?

  • Decide on a specific and narrow topic.
  • Create a compelling title.
  • Discuss the issue from every angle.
  • Provide as much detail as possible.
  • If possible, provide step-by-step instructions on how to do something.

You should never stuff your articles with words just for the sake of hitting a word count.

But you should strive for detail, depth, clarity, and mastery of a subject matter.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about long-form content. When you truly make an effort to provide value in your content, it expands in length.

That’s not to say that you can’t provide value with a 400-word article.

But the level of value created in a 2,000-word article is usually much greater.

Content with “topical relevance”

But the plot thickens.

The same Backlinko article also points out that

content rated as “topically relevant” significantly outperformed content that didn’t cover a topic in-depth. Therefore, publishing focused content that covers a single topic may help with rankings.

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Topical relevance basically combines my first two points of creating rich content and long-form content.

It simply means that Google values content that’s comprehensive and that thoroughly covers a topic.

This means it’s best to focus on a single topic for each piece of content you create.

Rather than bouncing around from subject to subject, you’re better off going all in on a single topic and leaving no stone unturned.

Does this mean you can’t discuss other topics?

No. In fact, you should touch on as many relevant topics as possible! But your focus should be on a single topic.

If you feel you need to cover a topic you weren’t able to get around to in the post, create a separate piece of content and cover it in-depth as well.

Using long-tail keywords

This strategy has been in existence seemingly since the dawn of SEO—back when SEO was in its primordial soup stage.

One of the main ways small-scale marketers have been competing with the big dogs is by using long-tail keywords.

And why wouldn’t they? It freaking works.

In fact, I’ve been using this strategy for years.

I even used it to grow my search traffic by 51% in just three months!

And guess what? It still works brilliantly.

An infographic from Adept states that “pages optimized for long-tail keywords move up 11 positions on average, compared to just 5 positions for head keywords.”

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It’s really not rocket science.

Using long-tail keywords means less competition, which means a greater likelihood of achieving a favorable ranking.

The awesome thing is that long-tail searches account for roughly 70 percent of searches:

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This means there’s plenty of opportunity out there.

Of course, you won’t get the same volume of traffic that you would for a head keyword or broad keyword, but you can still generate some sizable traffic if you do your keyword research and choose a phrase that receives a reasonable number of searches.

Check out this post from NeilPatel.com for a step-by-step walkthrough of integrating long-tail keywords into your blog posts.

The process is fairly straightforward:

  • Do your typical keyword research (using Google AdWords Keyword Planner or your preferred tool)
  • Select the long-tail keywords from the list (3 words or more)
  • Use these keywords in your content.

Image-rich content

If you haven’t heard, people respond positively to images.

It’s true.

And although I think the whole visual-centric discussion has been done to death, I would like to reference one more point from the Backlinko article I mentioned earlier.

According to Brian Dean,

Industry studies have found that image-rich pages tend to generate more total views and social shares.

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But here’s the interesting thing.

Using at least one image is much better than not using any images at all.

However, they couldn’t find a correlation between the total number of images and rankings.

That means there’s no proof that using a lot of images will improve your rankings any further.

In other words, using just one image would in theory have the same effect as using 10 or more images.

The key takeaway is this:

Using a single image is clearly better than zero images. Including lots of images doesn’t seem to have an impact on search engine rankings.

When it comes to my posts, this information isn’t going to stop me from sprinkling plenty of images throughout my content.

In fact, you probably know that many of my posts are jam-packed with images.

I think my audience enjoys the “eye candy,” and graphs in particular are excellent for explaining fairly complex concepts.

But keep this in mind when creating your next piece of content: going nuts with images probably isn’t necessary.

Direct answers

If you’re not sure what I mean by “direct answers,” it’s simple.

Google is now starting to show direct answers when you use a “how to,” “what is,” “who is,” etc. type of search.

Here’s an example:

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The first thing that pops up at the top of the page is a clip from the top ranking site.

It’s a way to streamline the process and offer searchers direct information without them having to actually click on the link.

Of course, oftentimes they’ll still click on the link to find more in-depth information.

I know I often do.

So, here’s the deal.

Providing a direct answer can be beneficial and a viable strategy for killing it on SERPs.

If you can provide a quick, logical, and direct answer, especially for a long-tail keyword phrase, there’s a good chance you can get your content featured at the top.

Just be sure your direct answer transitions smoothly into the rest of your content.

Here’s how I typically use this strategy:

  • Identify a question marketers are asking.
  • Create an article answering this question.
  • Provide a step-by-step solution to the issue.

When I follow this three-step process, the articles I write on those topics usually rank on page one for the associated keyword within five days or less.

This is the primary technique I’m currently using on NeilPatel.com, and it’s earned me over 800,000 unique monthly visitors.

Conclusion

I value objectivity when determining the approach of my content marketing strategy.

I find that examining the cold hard facts clears most biases and preconceived notions I might have.

This is important because this gives me the clearest path to achieving my goals.

While there are countless factors that contribute to keyword rankings, the ones I listed here appear to have the biggest impact pound-for-pound.

Putting your attention on these key areas should ensure that your content marketing is heading in the right direction while giving you the best chance of climbing in the SERPs.

What do you think the most important content marketing strategy for improving your rankings is?