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Which should come first: the search term or the content?

All too often, SEO & site development efforts are out of sync. It’s a common complaint among SEO’s that a client will come to them with a Web site in hand and say “optimize this”. Whereas SEO’s would prefer it if the client would ask first and say “what content do we need to develop in order to have a site optimized for our target terms?”. It doesn’t have to be a chicken vs egg scenario though.

“Content is king.”  As SEOs, we say this fairly often.  And it’s most certainly true: if you’re shooting for a first-page ranking for a particular search term, you better have some focused content about it.

But what if you have some content that sort of pertains to a search term you wish to rank for.  And you start thinking ‘if I just insert that search term here… and one there… and another over there…’ and call that good? Well, then you’re turning your content into something that’s not focused and probably sounds pretty forced. This is where SEO’s get a bad rap. The last thing we want is content that’s in keyword-ese but sometimes that’s the only option you’ve got when the content comes first.

If the content comes first, you’ll find that specific content with the search terms shoehorned-in probably works as as effectively in helping your site’s conversion rate as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest (no offense to any one-legged men who can probably kick my butt to the moon).  I mean hey, you’ll have content and you’ll have your search terms in that content… but think of the site users who will read it.

If the search term comes first, you’ll write content specifically around that search term.  It’ll sound genuine, it’ll be interesting and will show that you command that topic.  A piece (or several pieces) of content written with a search term in mind can help your site by creating more focused content around relevant search terms that are related to your business, helping not only search engine rankings but also providing information for site users. This instills trust in a user; it lets them know that you’re an authoritative figure in your industry (“By golly, this company certainly knows their stuff!”).

So what should come first?  Content that you’ve written then deciding on what search terms you should focus your writing around?  Or researching search terms that users are actively searching on and writing content around those? Luckily – there’s a compromise to the chicken vs egg scenario, and it all revolves around something everyone on the Web team will love – a content strategy and a flexible site architecture. With a plan in mind for how you’re going to be able to expand your site over time you’ll be giving your SEO something to work with. Your SEO will be able to optimize your existing content while being able to work with your Web team on developing additional search-term optimized and integrated content for your site.

About Christian Bullock