Sixty-eight percent of online experiences begin with a search engine. So if you want to make sure that your content is in the right place at the right time, you have to be thinking about SEO at every single stage of the content creation process.

SEO — or search engine optimization, for the uninitiated — is a marketing strategy designed to increase your content’s visibility and organic reach. It also helps ensure that your content ends up in front of the right audience.

Keyword and keyword research are a big part of SEO, and they’re usually what we think of first when the term comes up. But there are more ranking factors to be aware of, including the security, accessibility, and loading speed of your website, your content’s mobile-friendliness, and links, both internal and external.

In terms of content creation, being aware of SEO from the start is a good idea if you want to grow your reach and tap into a bigger audience. But don’t feel like you have to outsource your SEO. Where here to help you do it with a quick step-by-step guide for ensuring your content ranks.

Step 1: Ideate Your Content

SEO plays a big role in what you decide to write about.

Stick to topics that are relevant to your brand and that you have some presumed authority to speak on. Not only will this help your content perform better, but it will also help you connect with higher-quality prospects.

Build a mind map, starting with topics that speak to your brand’s core and then branching each of them out into subtopics. From there, head to keyword research or SEO tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Answer the Public to generate keywords based on the topics and subtopics you identified. Use these keywords, phrases, and questions to guide your content and help inform what you should write about.

Step 2: Outline Your Content

If you’re regularly creating content, chances are you’re already putting together outlines to guide each article. However, make sure that you’re including basic SEO components you’re looking for in your outline, which will inform the writer and keep everyone on the same page regarding focus.

At BenchmarkONE, we like to include a suggested title, a couple of sentences, or a paragraph on what the content is about and any key points the article should touch on. Complete the outline with any keywords or phrases that need to be included, and if you have a focus keyword you’re trying to rank for, be sure to mention that.

Step 3: Write Your Content

If you’re doing the writing yourself, SEO will be integral to the process.

In addition to staying on topic, you’ll want to strategically place keywords throughout your copy to optimize it for search. Put a high-priority keyword in your header, and work that keyword and any additional keywords into subheaders and the text itself. Consider not just what people search but how they search it, making your keywords more conversational than robotic to be in line with the surge in voice search.

Links are important. Try to stick in at least one internal link and one link to a high-authority external site (make sure it’s non-competing). As you write more content, you can start to create pillar posts, which include a lot of internal links and are great for SEO.

Make sure that your content is easy to read and actionable. This is more valuable for your readers, and search engines like it too.

Step 4: Tweak Your Content

Keep SEO front of mind as you edit your content before publication. Verify that the piece is well-written, original, and on topic, and check that your keywords and links are in place.

Search engines love graphics, so work some original images or videos into your content if you can (or just use stock photos). Add an alt-text description to all graphics for both SEO and user accessibility, and go ahead and stick a keyword in there, too, if you can.

Make sure that you have a meta description in mind or already written. Your meta description will need to be concise and use the keywords you established.

Step 5: Distribute Your Content

Following the steps above means that your content will be optimized for organic reach, though it might not happen right away.

In the meantime, take action to distribute your content in a targeted, effective way. Use it in email marketing, sending it out to segmented contact lists depending on which leads will find it most relevant to their current needs. Share your content on your social media pages, too, paying attention to what sorts of pieces resonate most with your followers and spur on the most engagement.

Content isn’t the only part of your SEO strategy, but it is a big part of it. Keep a close eye on how your content is performing and update and/or modify existing pieces as needed to improve their ranking.

As your content requirements grow, go back to step one and your mind map and go through the process again. Regardless of your industry, there are always a wealth of topics, ideas, and keywords that may be relevant to your audience — you just have to figure out what they are (and utilize them correctly).