Summary: Here are the on-page SEO basic steps that will get you more results per ounce of cybersecurity content marketing effort than anything else you might do.
If you are a security vendor that hasn’t built basic SEO into your workflow, I’m going to share with you the easiest approach to tuning up a blog post. This doesn’t use the best tools, omits a whole lot of small points of SEO “science” that can sometimes make a difference, only looks at “on-page” SEO factors, and doesn’t take advantage of some of the current additional steps (such as adding structured data to the page) that can give you a leg up. But it’s still, on the other hand, a highly effective approach provided you actually integrate it into your workflow.
Companies tend to shirk off this process and that’s because the people writing and editing the blogs tend to shirk off this process. And they avoid it because writing the blog was hard in the first place. Now that it’s “done,” they are kind of satisfied with what they said and don’t want to muck around with it anymore. Let’s face it, a lot of the SEO work is highly detail oriented, and if you could otherwise push the “Publish” button but now you have to do a bunch of keyword research, every fiber of your being will tell you to just push the freaking button already.
This is one of the reasons people bring me in to be part of the process. They have neither the time nor the desire, plus with tools and expertise, I’m a lot faster at it than they are. In the best of circumstances, I’m also steering toward interim marketing goals that the blog writer may or may not be aware of.
The Basic Steps of the Process
It’s pretty simple.
- You need to pick a good target (or primary) keyword for the piece, then use that keyword in the title of the page (the actual title as identified by the <Title> tag on the HTML page).
- Then you find some additional keywords logically related to the target keyword and use them wherever they fit as you then write at least 300 words and…
- You include at least one sub header, which is marked as an <H2>, <H3>, or <H4> header.
- You use the target keyword (exactly as it stands in the title—no plurals or small tweaks) somewhere in the first couple of paragraphs.
- You include an image and that image should have an alternate text tag that includes either the target keyword or a related one.
- You include a handful of links both to other pages on your site and to appropriate pages elsewhere on the web.
Do these things and, provided you got the critical step of picking the target keyword opportunity done well, you’ll see progress over time (very little in SEO happens instantly, unfortunately).
Cybersecurity content marketing: More Detail
Some of the steps in the above stripped-down version are probably not entirely clear, so let’s dig in a little bit.
It’s actually best to pick out your target keyword before you’ve fully written the piece. You may want to write a couple of paragraphs so that you have a good idea where the piece is headed. It’s certainly possible to do this after you’ve written a full draft, in fact I do it this way all the time for clients, but you’ll have more room for creativity and for using the best available keyword if you’re not too locked down when you pick it.
By “target keyword,” what I principally mean is the keyword that Google is likely to associate with the page and rank the keyword for. Can Google rank a page for more than one keyword? Absolutely. But let’s not get fancy. Now we’re just setting a mental marker for what we think Google will think the page is most about.
The primary way we communicate to Google that a keyword is important (and signal what the piece is about) is by using the keyword in the title. Of course, this is also what we’re trying to do with the potential reader, so there’s a duality of purpose here and much of the time these two purposes are well aligned.
We’ll talk about picking the target keyword in a second, but first let’s just say that there are better and worse keywords and that there are two theoretical frameworks in which you can write a title. The first framework is the one we’re talking about: picking a good title for the search engine. The second framework is picking something really clever that the user will want to click on.
There’s nothing wrong with the second framework, picking the “clicky” title. (OK, actually the resulting title is so awful that it should be illegal to publish such a thing.) But it does assume that you have a lot of readers who are seeing the title. This brings us back to one of my early observations: no one is reading your blog. People aren’t saying to themselves, gosh, I’m going to drop by Vendor X’s blog and see if something catchy has turned up there.
If you do have the big audience, OK fine. Go nuts. But if that’s not you, then avoid titles like:
The Twelve Security Ideas (ask me how I know...)
Inside of a Dog, It’s Too Dark to Read
The Screen Door on a Submarine
Secrets Your Employees Won’t Keep
Top Ten Firewall Disasters!
Don’t Abandon Your Data Security Agenda
None of these titles contains a target keyword, except possibly the last two, with “firewall” and maybe “data security agenda”. We’ll check on that in a moment.
A phrase is not a keyword just because you could, if you wanted to, type it into Google and search for it. Rather, something becomes a keyword when multiple people across the world search for it. Most keywords only have a few people searching for them in a given month, ranging from twenty searches a month right up through multiple hundreds of thousands.
Getting back to our last two title options above, “firewall” searched for an average of 49,500 times a month. “Data Security” was searched for 2900 times a month on average. And, just to drive home the point about what makes a keyword a keyword, nobody searched for “data security agenda”.
Off the top of your head, you might say that the best choice here would be to use “firewall” as a keyword. It has the most searches, therefore, it generates the most clicks through to web pages.
Search Volume Complications
But it’s not that simple. The other side of the equation is that there are other pages competing for ranking on a term. For “firewall”, there are 111 million pages that Google will show you when you search for it, provided you live long enough to click through all those results. Some of those pages are great, some of them are miserable. Google tries to put the good ones earlier in the results.
With 111 million pages, the good ones are pretty good. Wikipedia has a page that Google likes. So do Cisco, Forcepoint, and Comodo. The tech B2B publisher TechTarget has a page up there in the top entries.
“Data Security” has six billion pages available in Google results.
So one factor in a keyword decision might be how many pages you’re competing with. Going at it that way, “Firewall” is definitely better than “data security” because “firewall” has way more search volume and way fewer competing pages.
Alas, it’s still not as simple as that. That’s because, thing is, you really aren’t competing with all 111 million or six billion pages. You’re only competing with pages that have a prayer of being near the top of the heap.
So how do you choose the right target keyword? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. A lot of factors can go into the selection process:
· What the trend of search volume looks like for each candidate
· Projected click through rate for organic search results
· The dollar value of click-throughs from the search term (how much do Google ads for this term go for?)
· One of the “keyword difficulty” metrics supplied by some of the paid SEO tools out there
· Number of pages that have the keyword in their title
· Keyword options that match the keywords for which your competitors rank in top spots
· Examination of the quality of the top several pages you’ll be competing against
· The “Domain Authority” score you’ll be up against when competing against the top ranking pages
And, of course, if you go looking on the Internet, you find plenty of other random magical approaches.
Remember, you’re trying to pick the best opportunity for a short list of possible keywords. Some keywords will obviously not be likely winners. If there are four ads and a featured snippet for a keyword, then the organic results will fall well below the fold on the results page, meaning other keywords that didn’t have all that clutter on the results page would be better bets.
Consider Typical Top Search Volume
For an extremely rough-and-ready approach to settle less-obvious cases, I suggest you figure out some top keywords that your competitors rank for, then have a look at the approximate search volume for each, get a sense of what typical search volume looks like for top keywords in your industry, then pick the keywords that best fall into that traffic level.
By way of saving you some time, I can tell you that longer-tail keywords in security tend to get 200-600 searches. More popular stuff, like “firewall”, does 40-60k.
How do you get the search volume? Well, the free way to do it is to use the Google keyword tool. The downside of this is that it only gives you the range of searches (which order of magnitude does it fall in). That’s a pretty blunt instrument, but in the case of security it does give you a sense of where it fits in the two levels I mention in the previous paragraph.
Early in the game, aim for stuff in the lower-volume group. Aim for stuff where the competing pages look like something you can beat. There are ways to make more sophisticated predictions about where you’re likely to do well, but at the end of the day these are educated guesses, so make the best choice you can given the tools at hand and move on. You’ll be way ahead of this game of cybersecurity content marketing if you simply make sure you pick something that actually is a keyword and has some search volume.
After that, you need at least a couple related keywords. Don’t get fancy here, just doublecheck that your keywords are actually keywords and actually have some traffic. Tackle real information security issues and let the keywords fall into line–don’t let the cybersecurity content marketing tail wag the actual cybersecurity content dog.
Then, make sure you hit all the items on the list at the start of the chapter. This takes extra time and discipline, but it leads to the small wins that add up over time and that lift the performance of your website.