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Storytelling Content Creation

How to Balance SEO Strategy with Brand Storytelling

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Of the three main pillars of SEO strategy—crawlability, content, and credibility—content is the heart of SEO. And as content creators, we must take a holistic approach to producing content. An essential part of this is integrating SEO strategy with compelling, original brand storytelling.

While understanding strategies and best practices, you certainly don’t want to create keyword-stuffed drivel that was churned out strictly to rank high on search engines. On the other hand, content marketing isn’t about telling random stories about your cat’s Instagram feed (well, unless it somehow fits into a company’s business objectives). As brand storytellers, we have to balance our need to tell great stories in our own voice with adhering to SEO strategies and brand messaging.

How do you create compelling content that follows SEO keyword best practices while also maintaining a strong brand voice? After all, you want your content to stand out among a sea of clickable links and provide personal value to your audience. In the end, a human-first approach to creation is what will set your content apart from the competition while still maintaining a prime spot in the rankings. Here’s how you can fuse SEO strategies with brand storytelling to balance both the demands of writing for Google’s search algorithms and writing for human beings.

Focus on the Emotional Connection

As noted in Skyword’s SEO Best Practices Playbook, “Marketers need to think of their content creation and SEO as a singular effort, where optimizing content for search or crafting a story that meets your audience’s needs are, in a sense, both one and the same.”

Case in point: Vistaprint, after long being focused on direct response marketing, is making the shift to brand storytelling. Beyond SEO strategies and business goals related to content, the nearly two-decade-old Dutch printing company is building its brand through emotional connection. For instance, its “Ideas and Advice” blog goes beyond basic design tips for small business owners and dives deep into providing educational tactics and materials for its specific audience of micro-business owners—making it a trusted resource customers can refer to again and again.

Anyone can do some keyword research and pack their opening paragraphs with a half dozen highly searchable terms. However, this often ends up sounding incredibly stilted and unnatural to the reader. Therefore, as brand storytellers, we should strive to create content that’s conversational and build a memorable connection by the stories we choose to tell through techniques like first-person narratives that evoke emotions and immerse the reader in an experience.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a keyword strategy at all. In fact, keywords are an extremely useful brainstorming tool when you’re generating ideas for the stories you want to tell. When you’re working on your ideation process with your editorial team, try looking at sets of keywords to spark topic suggestions, then come up with stories that revolve around those keywords.

It can be a story that is drawn from a firsthand account, a recent event, or a popular cultural trend. When you develop these intriguing story ideas, your SEO team can offer even more nuanced insights by providing variations on long-tail keywords to incorporate in your piece. (Note: Metadata, tags, and links will also support your SEO.)

Look for Unexplored Keyword Opportunities

hiker on bridge

Image attribution: Felix Russell-Shaw

As keyword strategy includes a mix of short-tail and long-tail phrases and primary/secondary hierarchy, you’ll want to look for unexplored keyword opportunities. What long-tail phrases could help your content stand out; where could you potentially own the conversation?

You can use a long-tail phrase that is relevant to the brand’s story and fits in with its content objectives to create a story that’s both of value to your audience and is in sync with SEO strategy.

For instance, a recent piece I contributed to the insurance start-up Cover discussed one homeowner’s tale of horror after coming home on New Year’s Eve to a burst pipe in his home. The piece discussed ways you can file a claim, and what steps were involved in the claim process. Due to a strategic keyword selection meant to address this specific concern, if someone now searches “pipe burst homeowners insurance tips” the article pops up on the first page.

If you’re stumped, pull from the broad category level of keywords. See if it makes sense to combine a long-tail phrase with a short-tail one, or a long-tail phrase with a related phrase that someone might naturally search for to meet a certain need.

Think Holistically

No man is an island of himself, and the same is true of a piece of content. No blog post, video, infographic, or guide will drive your content goals. It’s the entire experience, and how your content assets interact with one another within your site that boosts your SEO. So when creating content, think about how different pieces work together to contribute to a greater brand message. How can each piece of content connect to one another, both as a greater narrative and as a block within your SEO strategy?

To return to the Skyword SEO Best Practice Playbook, “SEO conversations have begun to swing away from technical exploits and more towards holistic, content-driven strategies that marry quality content with clean site organization and construction.” Think about how each piece of content, whether it’s a stand-alone piece or a series, fits into the greater whole of your content strategy and brand experience.

Pop in Keywords in Interview Questions

One way you can add originality into your content while integrating SEO strategies is by including keywords within interview questions. Having keywords in the questions you pose to experts will give them an established place in the article while preventing them from appearing too forced as the major focus for readers will be on the expert’s response.

Quotes can serve as a microcosm of your larger goal of balancing originality with abiding by SEO best practices. For instance, let’s say you are writing a piece for a pet site on creative ball games to play with pets, and one of the keyword phrases includes “golf ball.” You can ask an exotic animal behaviorist some games you can play with pets that include golf balls. And even if they don’t use “golf balls” in their response, the conversation will be built around tactics to play with balls. In turn, you’ll have a different voice or perspective that is also supporting your SEO.

radio interviewer

Image attribution: NeONBRAND

Use a Strong Voice

A great way to avoid sounding too robotic in your storytelling while still keeping up with your keyword strategy is by interjecting your content with a strong voice and tone—if your brand’s content strategy calls for it. That way you can incorporate SEO best practices and strategies without diluting style. It’s not about adapting to keyword trends at the expense of your brand voice, but about giving finding creative ways to marry the two. So infuse your brand voice, whether it be conversational, inspiring, friendly, edgy, or bold, into each piece of content you create.

When balancing SEO strategies with powerful brand storytelling, at the end of the day, the most important thing is to serve your audience. Good content offers your audience more than information: It engages them, helps them solve a pain point, and tells your brand’s story in the process. And by integrating SEO strategy with compelling content, you can tell great brand stories that new audiences will discover and that will help hit your content objectives.

There’s always more to learn in the SEO space. If you want to dive further into any of the topics above or get a better view of the role content marketers play in SEO today, check out our SEO Best Practice Playbook.

Featured image attribution: iam Se7en

Jackie Lam is a money writer and content marketer who's worked with both Fortune 500 financial companies and clients in the fintech space such as Chase, Discover, KeyBank, Fidelity, SoFi, Acorns, Simple Finance, and Swell Investing. Her work has appeared in outlets such as GOOD, Business Insider, and Forbes. She blogs at HeyFreelancer.com and tweets about her many projects at @heyfreelancerco. In her free time she likes to help cultivate community for freelancers, write fiction, and volunteer feeding the homeless.

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