Developing online content as a part of your marketing efforts serves a dual purpose for small business owners. It helps your business get discovered via search engines and, if used strategically, it can establish trust and credibility in your brand. From blogs to podcasts to social media channels, a myriad of options for sharing digital content exist. However, it's not enough simply to post across these various platforms. Your development of content should be girded by a strategy that has search engine optimization (SEO) as its basis. Here's how to create a comprehensive SEO content strategy.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

But first, before we do a deep dive into the actual strategy, here's a primer on the SEO basics.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a marketing strategy that seeks to increase the visibility of an online destination -- usually a website or an online account. This is accomplished by increasing the quantity and quality of visitors to these online destinations.

Keywords are an essential element of SEO. Keywords are the phrases in your online content that make it possible for people to find your online destinations via search engines. When your website and other sources of online content have been properly optimized with keywords, they will use the same vocabulary of phrases that your sought-after visitor base does. At the end of the day, searchers will be more easily connected to your website.

Developing Keywords For Your Digital Marketing

Before you begin, acquaint yourself with the myriad of options for sharing digital content: websites; blogging platforms like WordPress and Medium; social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube; content aggregators; podcast hosting platforms. In addition, it's important to keep in mind the diversity of ways you can communicate with your customers: blogs, articles, videos, research (including case studies), polls, podcasts, and photographs, among others. Keywords figure into all of these methods.

1. Begin With Keyword Research. Keyword research is the process of identifying actual search terms that people enter into search engines. The most basic way to identify keywords is to think of the phrases or the questions that potential customers may ask when they are looking for your services. For example, if you operate several dental practices, imagine a potential client that is trying to find a new dentist: "Who is the best dentist in (city, state)?"; "How do I find a dentist?"; "Price of a dental cleaning." Or perhaps you own a business that sells hair care products: "What is the best product for frizzy hair?"; "Shampoo for thinning hair"; "How to get rid of dandruff."

2. Brainstorm Five Primary Topics. You can also go about developing and identifying keywords for your SEO content strategy by brainstorming a list -- say, five items to start -- of topics that are of primary importance to your business. For example, if you are a dentist, your list might look like this: "the importance of frequent teeth cleanings"; "how to prevent cavities"; "the price of tele-dentistry"; "dental implants," etc. If you manufacture hair products, your list might look like this: "leave-in conditioners," "sulfate-free hair products," "best products for curly hair," etc.

3. Make a List of Phrases. Once you've identified at least five primary topics, you can start making a list of the phrases that might be in a piece of content about each of these topics. (Keep in mind that the content in question can take a variety of forms: a video, an article, an Instagram story, an infographic, etc.) If the topic is "How to Prevent Cavities," the phrases might be: "brush with fluoride toothpaste after eating and drinking"; "visit your dentist regularly"; "consider fluoride treatments"; "consider dental sealants."

The point of this exercise is to create a list (as long as possible) of phrases that you think potential customers might use to search for content related to a given primary topic.

4. Research Related Terms. If you are having a hard time coming up with keywords for each of your primary topics, try typing the topic into Google or another search engine. Typically, search engines will generate "related search terms" somewhere on the results page (typically at the bottom with Google). These related keywords may also spark ideas for additional topics that you could cover as part of your digital content strategy.

Best Practices for Developing a Content Strategy

Coming up with a list of primary topics and their related keyword phrases is just the beginning. Once you have at least five topics that are relevant to your business -- plus a comprehensive list of phrases that are related to each of those topics -- it's time to let this keyword research inform your digital marketing efforts. By incorporating these keywords into your SEO content strategy, you can increase the likelihood that potential customers will discover your content and learn about your business online.

1. Create a Spreadsheet of Content Topic Ideas. Since you've already done the research on keyword phrases for your business, your next step is to determine what keywords would make great content in the future. From there, you can make a spreadsheet of content topic ideas. For each content topic, you can include additional notes about your topic idea, the content type you want to create (blog post, podcast, video, Facebook post, Facebook Live video, etc.), assign it to someone to create it, including a date to create it (plus a date to share it), and any other relevant notes.

2. Use Keywords When Creating New Content. When you are actually creating a new piece of content, you'll want to make sure that all the keyword phrases that you are targeting for that particular topic are considered throughout the content. How you incorporate the keywords largely depends on the type of content and the topic of the content. This is your chance to be creative -- to demonstrate that you're passionate about the services and products that you provide.

3. Optimize Your Social Media Profiles. Potential customers may also search for you on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, and Yelp. While there are entire courses dedicated to best practices for each of these channels, considering how you might include keyword phrases when posting on social media should be part of your larger content strategy.

4. Invest in an Analytics Traffic Tool. An analytics tool can serve as an important measure of how successful your SEO content strategy is. There are both free and paid tools that are available online. These tools will help you figure out where the current traffic to your website is coming from and the keywords that people are using to find your website.

Using keywords as a part of your SEO content strategy can go a long way in helping you gain more visibility online. The worst thing possible for your marketing strategy is for you to invest lots of time and resources into creating content -- only to have no one actually see it.