If something on your car starts making funny sounds, you don’t scrap it and buy an entirely new one. You take it to a mechanic, fix the problem and go on living your life.

The same logic applies to your content marketing.

If a blog post isn’t generating the shares and traffic you were hoping for, take another stab at it. If a white paper didn’t quite land with your intended audience, correct your mistakes and move forward.

That’s the essence of content optimization. Tweak, adjust and update your marketing materials for maximum, relevant results. You don’t have to create brand-new content from scratch and hope for the moon. Instead, modify existing content to perform even better over the long term. You know what works and what doesn’t – now follow the data.

What is a content optimization strategy?

A content optimization strategy is the practice of making your content as relevant and results-driven as possible. This includes using high-value keywords, updating metadata, checking technical health, testing user experience and identifying audience intent.

Why optimize?

In a consumer economy, we’re used to throwing out phones and getting new ones every few years. We trade in cars for better versions. This is all by design.

Physical products are meant to fail. It’s called planned obsolescence. Companies make products with distinct defects so that, in due time, they break down and we are forced to purchase updated products. It’s more money for them.

But in the digital world, there’s effectively no timetable on effectiveness. Webpages can live forever. Blog posts written 20 years ago will likely still be circulating in 20 more years. That’s why you need to make your content count – today, tomorrow and every day after.

Optimized content ensures your brand image doesn’t go stale. It keeps your marketing from losing its value. It keeps you in touch with your audience – even as it changes.

What to optimize and what to leave alone

Content optimization entails a number of different techniques and tactics, but the goal ultimately remains the same: maximize your reach and convert users.

Here’s a quick breakdown of optimization types:

content optimization strategy
  • Search engine optimization: Making webpages crawlable and indexable by search engines. This includes various on-page, off-page and technical factors.
  • Conversion rate optimization: Making calls-to-action and other forms of conversion triggers as seamless and successful as possible.
  • User experience optimization: Making the entire experience of consuming content across any device, browser or medium enjoyable. This is especially key for mobile devices, tablets and voice search assistants.
  • On-SERP optimization: Making the organic and paid listings on search engine results pages (SERP) stand out from others to entice more clicks and achieve greater visibility. This includes structured data markup for organic and greater ad relevance for paid.
  • On-page optimization: Making content on a given webpage keyword-targeted, scannable and media-rich for ideal search engine and human experience. This includes anchor text, meta descriptions, title tags, hyperlinks, imagery and copy.

Underlying each of these methods is content. Content fuels campaigns. It builds brands. It creates revenue.

That’s what makes optimized content incredibly valuable. It’s required throughout the entire customer lifecycle, at every stage of the sales funnel, at every online touchpoint.

So moving more of your resources toward optimization makes sense no matter how you look at it. But then comes the question of knowing whether something is already good as-is versus what absolutely needs to be overhauled. As Founder of SEO.London puts it, “Here is the most important part: prioritization.”

That’s where metrics come in:

Metrics to look at

For existing content that lives on the web, like blog posts, there are a number of performance metrics that will clue you into whether it’s worth your time to optimize. In some cases, you may rank on Page 7 of Google for a semantic keyword you care nothing about. In other cases, you may be on the cusp of Page 1 for a commercial-intent keyword. Based on these scenarios, you can see for yourself where your resources should be spent.

Here are a few KPIs to weigh against your own business goals:

Current ranking position

Where does your content rank in search engines? Do you think it would be easy to quickly optimize an article to jump up a few positions? Would it be beneficial to your company’s revenue to get more clicks on that specific article?

We often prioritize articles that already rank on Page 1 or 2. These pages stand the chance of stealing more traffic as they inch upward in SERPs. Because 92% of all clicks occur on Page 1, that’s where you need to aim. That’s where the windfalls of optimization come into play.

Keyword difficulty

How competitive is the keyword you are targeting? Do well-established global brands already dominate that search term? Are there plenty of avenues to more holistically tackle a topic based on a singular keyword? While there are no hard and fast rules on what makes a keyword difficulty score (on a 1-100 scale) – it depends on the Domain Authority of your site and your competitors’ sites – we try to aim for 40 or lower. Check SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz or really any SEO tool to get this info.

SERP crowding

Is the SERP landscape even conducive to ranking for a keyword? By this we mean, are there several paid ads running at the top of the page? Are there one or more Featured Snippets displaying already? How many organic listings actually appear above the fold?

If a term is too competitive – making the SERP too crowded visually – searchers may never see your page regardless of how much you optimize it. Spend your time elsewhere.

Search volume

As a baseline keyword research metric, search volume tells you whether you’re picking valuable search terms to target. “Valuable” in this case refers to pure quantity. Going a step further, a high search volume of, say, 10,000 searches per month (SPM) may be too high level and vague for your audience. A lower search volume of 50 SPM for a long-tail keyword may be more in your ballpark. As search volume declines, search intent tends to rise, so the minimal users querying your keyword may be highly engaged and active buyers needing your services.

Click-through rate

The number of clicks you receive divided by the number of times your page appeared in SERPs is your click-through rate (CTR). So if your blog ranks on Page 1 but is only receiving a very small share of overall Page-1 clicks, your CTR would be paltry. By boosting CTR even just a few percentage points, you can increase your pageviews and potential conversions.

Dwell time

If someone clicks on your page, but then clicks back to a SERP, the time that elapsed is your dwell time. For example, if I stay on your page for just 2 seconds because you clearly didn’t provide me the information I needed, I would immediately hit the back button and choose a search result that better fits my needs. A low dwell time is measured and weighed by Google’s RankBrain algorithm, and it will negatively impact how your pages are ranked. On the other hand, if I stay on your page for 12 minutes before I hit the back button, chances are your page did a pretty good job of matching my needs, and Google will be more apt to uprank your content. Use this indicator rather than bounce time, as it is more representative of individual user behavior on a single page.

With these factors in mind, assess which pieces of content would be best served by optimization. A best practice is to first choose content that performs well or well enough. Then make it a little better. There is much more to be gained from bumping up your organic ranking from position 5 to position 2 than there is from jumping from Page 12 to Page 3. Marketing power is concentrated at the very, very top of SERPs, so that’s where you need to break in to.

Content optimization starter checklist

The ideal blog to optimize would be one that already has:

  • Decent search volume.
  • Low-ish keyword difficulty.
  • Low SERP crowding.
  • Steady click rates.

If it ranks on Page 1 or 2 even better.

From there, you may need to zoom out a bit. Look at the larger marketing picture and your overall goals. Sometimes patterns and data points that are more subjective impact your content creation and optimization. These things might be seasonality, timeliness, new industry disruptions, shifting brand recognition, audience expertise and upcoming campaigns – all of which aren’t as scientific and measurable as we sometimes hope. But they’re still important for determining how and when to optimize content.

Below is a quick checklist for seeing how your updated content can be absolutely on point:

Target keyword

You may need to target a less-competitive term, which might necessitate restructuring some of your copy and shifting the focus of the content in a new direction. Again, choose keywords and phrases that have enough upside.

Reader intent

From the time your article was originally created to now has your audience changed? What do they seek when they click on your post? Are they more knowledgeable in some areas, but lack info in others? At a fundamental level you need to know whether your target audience for this specific article is:

  • Just wanting to learn more.
  • Hoping to compare your brand/services to others.
  • Seeking to be connected to a salesperson after a few engagements.

Knowing which category your readers fall into will help you craft the focus, tone and subtopics of your optimized content.

Funnel position

Will your content aid in the buyer journey, and in which stage?

Does your blog post enable sales or upsells? Does it funnel traffic to product pages? Does it have a hard CTA with conversion quotas? Does it lead to a gated asset? Is it meant for social media and top-of-funnel engagement?

Your answers will help you firmly place your article into your marketing funnel so that it can be best distributed and promoted to the right audiences.

Asset format

Just because you originally wrote a 600-word blog post doesn’t mean your optimized version has to fit those same parameters. You can repurpose it into an eBook, a white paper, a landing page, a video or just a longer, more in-depth evergreen article. The options are quite customizable.

The precise format of your newly optimized content will be determined by its role in the buyer journey and your readers’ preferred content types. If your goal is organic ranking, then a blog post is the way to go. If it’s facilitating sales, a landing page or gated asset may be preferable.

Campaign relevance

What’s the overarching narrative you’re promoting in the upcoming quarter? Through which channels are you distributing content? Do you have a near-term quota you have to hit?

These questions will greenlight whether it makes sense to optimize something right now or further down the road. The key is to ensure what you’re optimizing syncs with your concurrent campaigns – if not, put it on the backburner for the time being.

Connect your re-opts to business opps

Even if you optimize a blog post, you’ll likely have to do so once more (or twice more!) in the future. It’s basically a never-ending process to better capture audience attention. And because the goalposts of search engines move, your content should be moving with them.

Re-optimizing content several times over allows you to align with your company’s larger business objectives. If your CEO wants to grow the customer base 20% in the next two months, you can identify bottom-of-funnel content that could help achieve this goal and then optimize it to more closely match what prospects are seeking.

If Q4 tends to be a busy time for your business, optimizing blog posts with holiday, end-of-year, seasonal keyphrases can help support higher organic visibility during this time frame. As you begin to understand the ebbs and flows of your online audience – and your business – you can optimize accordingly so that you’re maximizing every possible opportunity as it arises.

Does it work?

Yes, very much so.

After your optimized content is published through your content management system, you can run a “Fetch as Google” via your Google Search Console. This tool effectively force-indexes your updated page so that you get an immediate idea of where your page will be indexed in SERPs. Doing so allows you to see ranking results upfront rather than having to wait days or weeks for Google to naturally crawl and re-index your page.

Our content optimization strategy has redefined how we approach content marketing at large. Here’s a look at the success we saw over an 8-month period last year:

  • 70% increase in the number of product pages ranking on Page 1.
  • 84% increase in total ranking keywords across our domain.
  • 46% increase in site traffic.

Optimization is for everyone.

Mike O'Neill is a writer, editor and content manager in Chicago. When he's not keeping a close eye on Brafton's editorial content, he's auditioning to narrate the next Ken Burns documentary. All buzzwords are his own.