Content Design and SEO – working together for the user

Jess Shaw | 15th January 2024 | News

This blog will give you some insight into what content design is, how it can save you money, and the approach we should take when creating user-centric content from a collaborative SEO and Content Design perspective.

If we believe there are four pillars of SEO: Content, Authority, User Experience and Technical, that are underpinned by a central strategy, a strategy to champion the user, then surely Content Design and SEO are destined to be best buddies.

Content isn’t King. The user is. So to improve that end-to-end user experience for your business and ultimately keep those users happy, we need to combine SEO and Content Design knowledge and principles.

Picture the ideal scenario where SEO, Content Design (and a sprinkling of UX design, development and CRO) work together seamlessly…

  • The Google search is simple and easy, with your website at the top of SERPs and a no-surprises click-through when the information they see on the page matches the search intent and user needs. 
  • A fast-loading website so users don’t get frustrated and bounce.
  • An accessible website that works whether on a desktop or sitting on the train on their mobile, with subtitles on that video because they left their headphones at home.
  • Your webpage answers their question, provides them with some interesting information, and offers the solution to their problem or the product they’re been looking for.
  • The content is high-quality, written by an expert and easy to understand. In plain English. No jargon.
  • The buttons are where they expect to find them.
  • The navigation just makes sense.

This isn’t achieved by accident. It’s probably taken a lot of research to understand the user, their challenges, pain points, wants and needs, and a few iterations of copy, design and user testing. It also probably meant a lot of changes and recommendations to improve the organic visibility of the website, gain authoritative links, implement structured data markup and optimise metadata. 

What is Content Design?

Content design is a principle that answers user needs in the best way possible. It’s a thought process that takes into account data and research about the users. It aims to give the users, customers or target audience exactly what they want, in the way they expect it.

It’s about questioning whether content is adding value. It considers whether the content aligns with user desires and needs, steering away from the mere use of words for the sake of it, and incorporating data, insight and logic into content creation. 

Importantly, content design expands beyond just textual copy. It might involve video, infographics, imagery, tools or other formats based on user preferences found in research.

The ultimate goal of content design is to enhance engagement, retain users and prevent them from looking for information elsewhere. It makes content work smarter, gives them a smooth user journey, and guides them to their end goal. This goal in the context of B2C and B2B websites could be signing up for a service, making a download or making a transaction. 

Putting all this knowledge into the creation of a content strategy that breaks away from the common practice of fitting content into website designs without considering user intent. 

How content design and SEO should work together

Firstly, we need to eradicate any thoughts that SEO is about ‘tricking the system’, or a method of editing for Google to see content. If the objective is to reach the user or target audience, then SEO isn’t a magical plaster you add at the end of a process.

High-quality content isn’t content that’s been optimised with keywords solely to get a click, regardless of whether the page matches their search intent. 

Good SEOs know the user is at the heart of everything, just like content strategists and content designers. There is no point in generating rankings and traffic to a website if all those users are dropping off, not converting, or left confused or dissatisfied. Success is achieved by collaborating effectively with content design and taking a holistic approach to content strategy.

This relationship should be about communication and a shared understanding of the end goal. 

  • Combine research and insights right from the start, to build a strategy together that’s backed by evidence.
  • Always give rationale and thought behind content creation.
  • Ensure copy is never an afterthought, and similarly, SEO is about more than post-content creation optimisation. 
  • Utilise the knowledge and expertise about the technical aspects of a website’s hygiene, alongside on-page and off-page strategies to work together to ensure the content created is found. 

Regardless of good content design, SEO strategy needs to work in partnership. Because how frustrating would it be if content design principles are followed, but that content isn’t found because of a lack of authority, a technical issue with the website blocking the visibility of that content, the page taking too long to load, duplicate content competing and cannibalising search results, a bad internal linking strategy, or schema and markup not being used effectively. 

An integrated SEO and content design approach

Content design isn’t always an end-to-end process, but in an ideal world, it should be. These are the steps we take to integrate SEO and content design into one holistic strategy.

Discovery phase

This is where we begin a deep dive into who your users are, and what their challenges are. User research may include user interviews, sales team feedback, internal search analysis, social listening, review analysis, forum research, keyword research and competitor research. Combined with an understanding of business objectives and brand guidelines. 

Aspects of the keyword research and competitor analysis may be conducted by the SEO team, but importantly all research is shared to ensure everyone has that knowledge and understanding to plan out content effectively.

User needs analysis and user journey mapping

This stage is all about the analysis of user research to determine user needs. What are the recurring themes, what is the user looking for? We create a bank of user needs here that can be mapped to relevant pages. 

The current user journey can also be dissected at this stage and a visualisation mapped out to understand drop-off points and alignment with the buying funnel. Tools like Miro can be super useful here.

Content analysis and creation

Now it’s time for a deeper look into the performance of existing content using ranking analysis, traffic, engagement metrics and heat maps. What’s working well, where are there gaps and where are improvements needed?

A strategy is then defined for refreshes and consolidations to better meet user needs, alongside analysis of what content type and structure best meets user needs and introducing a clear content creation workflow and governance.

Publish, review and iterate

Once the content is published, the fun doesn’t stop. Ongoing analysis of content performance is crucial, as well as user testing through user interviews, surveys and heat map tracking. Then iterate. Content is always evolving.

How can content design save you money?

Content design can have a serious impact on revenue. 

Without putting user research and content design into a workflow, it’s money spent on an idea that isn’t fully validated. SEO analysis allows us to understand some of this, but an integrated approach means you have full justification that the user wants, needs and has an interest or use for the content created. 

More and more brands are focusing on content design as part of their product and service offerings, so if you’re not thinking about taking a content design approach. You should be. Especially one that works in tandem with your SEO strategy. 

Here are some facts and figures to get you thinking:

  • In a 2018 article, Sarah Winters highlights a transformative content design project for the UK government that reversed a 100% failure rate (0% completion) to an impressive 88% completion rate.
  • A shocking incident involving Citi’s software, where a nightmarish user experience, characterised by unclear field labels and an uninformative warning modal, led to the inadvertent transfer of $900 million to creditors. While $400 million was voluntarily returned, a court ruling allowed the creditors to retain the remaining $500 million.
  • Sarah Cancilla shares her success in enhancing a specific content module at Facebook, resulting in a notable 56% increase in traffic to that content and an engagement boost of 6 million additional users in the pursuit of connecting with friends.

Want to find out more about the value of content design and SEO for your business? Speak to the team today.

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