Technical SEO is something that content marketers don’t fully understand. And Kevin Indig, SEO lead at Atlassian, has some strong opinions—and plenty of advice—about how marketing teams can improve.
Take page-speed optimization, for example. Kevin finds that most sites leverage only about 20 percent of the best practices out there. They barely scratch the surface, even though page speed is one of Google’s oldest and best-known ranking factors.
It’s here where the challenge of technical SEO becomes clear. It spans front- and back-end development, infrastructure, marketing, and design. Marketers focus on things they can control, like content creation, since it’s hard to get developer resources to improve caching and page file size. Page-speed optimization would almost certainly have more impact than producing yet another article, but the effort is harder to coordinate. To amplify the problem, adding more pages and more links only increases the potential for technical problems.
Technical SEO is a significant growth lever, but it’s a hard one to pull. As Kevin says, “It’s the story of my life.”
How Content Marketers Can Level Up Technical SEO
It's helpful to make the distinction between true technical SEO—we can loosely define this as “things developers do”—and content optimization—which is the post-by-post optimization of content articles. In his post Creating an SEO Strategy from Scratch, Kevin lays this out clearly, with the caveat that sometimes there is overlap. Content teams will likely need dev help to prune a site, and content marketers can address structured data without technical assistance.
Regardless of how we break down the components of technical SEO, the overarching idea is that writing great content is never enough. Kevin was kind enough to offer suggestions based on his experience at Atlassian, where he's working on SEO for Jira, Confluence, Trello, Statuspage, and others. With tens of millions of pages to think about, Kevin has gotten really good at prioritization. The recommendations below represent a few low-effort, high-impact projects. Let's dive in.
Separate Keyword Research by Product and Content
Product pays the bills. As a result, the product pages deserve just as much SEO effort as content—even though there are far fewer pages. Content teams should be careful to avoid competing for keywords that should drive searchers to the product. To frame this, think of keywords in the context of a simple question . . . “What does this query deserve?” . . . then, answer it with either “product” or “information.” Matching search intent is key to strong rankings. If your product could rank, your product should rank. Use content for everything else. Here are a few obvious examples from Wistia:
This may seem simple, but there are a few important implications for content marketers:
Content should funnel readers and links to product pages when possible. A clearly defined SEO strategy for the product is necessary to do this well. If, for example, the content team understands which keywords the product pages should be ranking for, they can look for natural anchor text to drive links to those pages.
Product, design, dev, and marketing teams should coordinate to ensure they aren't competing for the same keywords. Wistia occasionally covers product-related searches on its blog—a search for “youtube vs. wistia” surfaces a blog post. This makes sense as long as the teams understand where the boundaries are.
Separating keywords by intent should make it clear that content does not equal SEO. Search is a broader initiative, of which content is one part. The priority, in fact, should go to the home page and related product pages. If these pages aren't actively monitored and tested, you run the risk of earning lots of traffic with no intent to buy.
Kevin notes that optimizing product pages often requires design and developer resources, but it's time well-spent. At the very least, content teams can avoid creating content that competes with their own product.
Prune Your Site
As painful as it may sound, removing pages from your site is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get an organic boost. Yes, those pages may represent thousands of dollars in content creation and design, but if they weigh down your site, they have to go. “Prune the weak branches off of a tree,” explains Kevin, “so the strong branches can get stronger. We do that very, very deliberately.” When you understand the mechanism at work, the idea is easier to digest. Kevin explains:
Google allocates a crawl budget for every domain. If that crawl budget is used for more high-quality content, then it will be crawled more often. Link juice distribution is another thing. If you don't pass on valuable link juice to weak pages or underperforming pages, then the well-performing ones will get more.
Weak content and pages that see little to no traffic water down your site. As we've written before about content overproduction, too much content creates a number of issues related to both search and user experience. Kevin suggests working closely with your search team or hiring an outside SEO consultant to guide you through the following process:
Identify pages that have gotten fewer than 100 visits in the last year. (This number should be relative to the traffic your site gets.)
Check to see whether these pages are driving conversions. Some low-traffic pages still drive sign-ups, and you don't want to delete them. The goal here is to find pages that don't get traffic or conversions: Get rid of lousy content, duplicate pages, and other cruft.
Look in Google Search Console for pages that get impressions but not clicks. If those impressions are surfaced by keywords you didn't intend to target but are still relevant, tweak your content for it.
Redirect or delete the URLs. This is where you want to make sure you have guidance from a seasoned SEO specialist. There are different types of redirects that can affect your site in different ways.
Make an annotation in Google Analytics so you know when the pages were redirected/removed. Resubmit your sitemap in Google's Search Console. Keep an eye out for crawl errors and bad redirects. Make sure any errors are addressed immediately.
“As soon as we take care of underperforming articles and pages, all the other stuff goes up,” Kevin says. Proceed with caution, but proceed nonetheless.
Use Entity Optimization to Organize Your Site
Entities are a more sophisticated way to think about keywords. They also frame search queries in the exact context Google's algorithm understands. “So say you wanna rank for the keyword [car],” Kevin explains. “Entity optimization would help you to understand that you also have to cover the topics like horsepower, windshield wipers, tires, brands, and models. These are all relevant entities for that topic, and Google uses machine learning to understand the distance between those topics, and we can quantify that for every piece of content.” We've written before that content that lives alone, dies alone. It's a dramatic way of saying exactly what Kevin explained above. Google uses entities to search for context. The more context, the better. Entities are the reason that it's hard to rank for a keyword with a single piece of content. To help Google understand the entities you want to rank for, you need to think in terms of hierarchy, and then build content that matches that hierarchy using the Hub and Spoke Strategy.
Kevin groups articles into topic clusters. These clusters help Google understand entities and their distance from one another. Creating content with this approach runs counter to the way most content management systems are set up, so it requires some extra effort to organize your site correctly.
Most content management systems push content creators to treat their sites like a publication, i.e. posts are organized by date, not topic.
Publications run on editorial calendars, which require that articles be produced regularly.
Thinking about content creation without the framework of topic clusters or a hub and spoke means you create an unending stream of semi-related posts with no hierarchical or categorical organization.
Instead, treat your blog like a library. Build a content strategy that includes relevant themes (or categories, clusters, etc.), and make it your goal to add content to each theme until it's covered in-depth and neatly organized using the model above. If anything, you'll spend less time creating content and more time organizing it. Consider this a secret weapon. While your competitors are churning out post after post, you can leverage site structure to grow traffic without spending money and time on more content.
Strategy Before Content Creation
Content teams have a responsibility to do more than create content. As you're building or refining your content strategy, remember these words from Kevin Indig: “Technical SEO is very underrated, and it can make a tremendous difference.”