How to create good thought leadership content that also ranks for SEO

If you spend time on LinkedIn or browsing industry publications, you may be familiar with the idea of ‘thought leadership.’ If not, or you’ve wondered what it really is, here’s my definition. Thought leadership refers to a person or brand positioning themselves as experts by sharing their ideas and opinions with their target audience. 

At it’s core, yes, it’s content. However, in my book, thought leadership should do three things:

  1. Share valuable information that people want to read and might search for
  2. Be SEO optimized so it’s findable when people search about your topic
  3. Show off your unique perspective, approach, and/or experience

Is it mandatory to create thought leadership? Of course not. Is it a good idea to set yourself apart from your competitors and get more eyes on you and your business (whether you work in a business or for a business)? Yep, absolutely.

But if you’re like many people I talk with you might be wondering “What the heck should I say?”

Yes, it’s about standing out. However, it’s not about coming up with some brand-spankin’-new methodology. It’s about putting your stories and ideas together in a way that’s actually interesting and valuable to your audience (and in a way that’s not half baked). 

The answer to all of these questions lies in your secret sauce. But your secret sauce probably isn’t what you think… and we’ll get into that in just a minute.

First thought, I want to touch on why producing and sharing thought leadership content is an absolute must. 

The key to effective thought leadership content

Good thought leadership content should show your audience you’re an expert in your field. And you should want good thought leadership. Otherwise…what’s the point?

Here’s the thing. While you might know you’re a pro in your profession, if you don’t put that expertise out into the world, no one else will know—and it’s a lot less likely that people will come to you for your expertise. 

It can be intimidating to hit publish and hope people see you succeed and not fall flat on your face. I get that—even in my own world and experience, I still sometimes hover my mouse over the publish button for longer than I care to admit. 

For others I’ve worked with, it’s less about confidence, and more about either finding the time to sit down and write (or meet with a writer) or figuring out how to organize your stories.

Regardless of what’s stopping you from writing thought leadership, it’s worth it. Especially when you think of it as an opportunity to show off your unique perspective (aka your secret sauce).

More importantly, if you make the content good or helpful for the reader, they spend more time on the page, and Google’s algorithm juice starts to reward you and your content, serving it up to people searching for similar stuff.

Two birds. One stone. (I’ve never liked that metaphor.)

How about that secret sauce?

First, a word on “secret sauce.” 

It’s something I talk about a lot, and you may have heard me say stuff like “Your secret sauce isn’t so secret.”

Because the truth is, if what you consider your secret sauce is prescriptive or methodology-based—that’s not so secret. Unless you’ve got a process patented or a recipe for success, you can probably easily Google the thing and find YouTube videos on it…whatever it is.

Making soap. Writing and designing a website. Writing a business plan.

It’s all figureoutable…if someone wants to dig hard enough. 

(Spoiler alert: your prospective clients don’t want to learn how to do it…they want YOU to do it for them. That’s why instead of being prescriptive you want to be descriptive.)

While your secret sauce might be the result of hours of learning, it’s not something that just anyone can find. Your secret sauce is you. 

By that I mean, your secret sauce isn’t any one thing. It’s a compilation of all your experiences and unique points of view. 

Let me explain.

A case study on coffee content

Let’s say you and I are both writing something about coffee. There is information that we could both present, such as the difference between a blend and a single-origin coffee, but we would end up using different anecdotes and feelings toward coffee based on our lived experiences.

I might share my obsession with coffee or my memories of stopping at the gas station on my hour-long drive to high school for a cup of Joe. Or I might talk about my bean-based snobbery, the fact that roasters and lattes were big in Alaska before Starbucks was really a thing. (And yes, that ages me.)

I might also rant about the fact that there aren’t enough small drive-through coffee stands anywhere I’ve lived outside of Alaska, and what a phenomenal business plan it would be if only I could get up at 4 am to run one.

Or I might share my experience exploring a coffee plantation in Costa Rica when I was in college.

You might have some elements of that, but your experience is probably totally different, so your article would be totally different.

Now let’s apply this to what you do, and spill the beans on how your experiences have shaped your approach. Maybe to leadership, building a business, marketing a business, mentoring others… the possibilities are endless. 

(FYI if you need help identifying and developing your secret sauce into something cohesive, I offer personal branding workshops designed to extract it from your head and turn it into talking points you can actually use. Contact me to get started.) 

Challenges of creating thought leadership content that resonates

Think of thought leadership like a conversation… you can talk about what you do until you’re blue in the face.

You answer questions all day every day about your business. 

That might just be the foundation for some of your thought leadership content.

But what does creating this content look like and how can you make sure it makes an impact? 

It starts with setting a goal for your thought leadership content. 

What are you trying to achieve with your content piece? Is it to educate your audience on a specific topic? Maybe even persuade them to take a specific action? Your end goal affects the creation of your content and what you want to share. 

Know this—it’s not just about what you know. It’s also about the angle you use to present the information to your audience. So if the first step is defining your personal brand, the second step lies in defining and understanding your audience. (The R stage of the REACH Visibility Trajectory.) 

In doing so, you can get a finger on the pulse of your audience and the kind of content that interests them. You can tailor your opinions and knowledge to catch their attention from there. 

Remember that secret sauce we talked about? 

Think of your thought leadership —heck, your entire marketing strategy—as a Venn diagram. Your audience on one side, and your je ne sais quoi on the other.

Your thought leadership or content pillars lie in the middle.

And knowing that inside and out is so helpful when it comes time to write good thought leadership. 

For so many reasons. But the #1 currently emerging is AI blog content. 

A note on AI blog content challenges

AI blogs have started spreading like wildfire in the content marketing space. While it can certainly speed things up, the downside is that it’s easy for your audience to spot AI-driven content. While tools like ChatGPT can be incredibly helpful when coming up with an outline, they fall short in a ton of ways. In addition to repetitive patterns, because it pulls information from content that already exists, there’s not much fresh information—or any, really, in AI blogs. 

But that’s where you come in as the hero to save the day! Your unique experiences and perspectives differentiate your content. 

Remember, your audience will be interested in what you have to say. 

You ARE an SME

What’s that? 

SMEs, or subject matter experts, have knowledge or domain expertise in a specific subject. And in the case of creating thought leadership content, that’s you. You are an expert in your field.  

You might not even consider yourself an SME for various reasons, but as a leader in your company, I guarantee you are…otherwise, you wouldn’t have gotten to this point in your career.

Another thing about SMEs I’ve found is that it’s not always easy for SMEs to turn their knowledge into content…but that’s where I come in. In addition to turning it into a story—I’ve been told this is a superpower—I can help you pull on threads to find interesting pieces for your audience.

Let’s talk about SEO, especially SEO best practices

You’ve written and published your content. Great. Now you have to market it so people find it. Of course, if you’re placing your articles in another publication, this isn’t as vital. But why not optimize your content so search engines can find it?

So if you hit publish and are wondering why you aren’t getting a tsunami wave of eager clients coming your way, it might be marketing, and it might be SEO or your ability to rank on search engines like Google. This means that while your content is on the internet, it’s not being found by your audience even if they’re actively searching for it.

I see this issue all the time, so you’re definitely not alone. You definitely don’t have to be an SEO wizard to push out great thought leadership, but you do need someone at your side to help you do the SEO portion.

You know that good SEO can make or break your thought leadership content, so what can you do right now to rectify that? 

Below I’m dropping a few quick fixes you can implement immediately to ensure you’re getting eyes on your content. Most importantly, don’t overthink it. Google prioritizes GOOD, helpful content over content that’s perfectly SEO-ified. These are good “to keep in mind” items, but they aren’t the end-all be-all. I can help you ensure that your content is findable by Google.

SEO Best Practice #1—Include your keyword in the article title and aim for the front half of the title.

If you’re trying to get your blog post to rank for a specific topic, make sure you choose a few keywords for your piece and sprinkle them into the title so your audience knows right away what you’ll talk about. 

SEO Best Practice #2—Include your keyword once every 150 words or so. 

FYI, this equates to no more than 7-10 times in a 1000-word article, but no less than 5 or so.

While you want to avoid ‘keyword stuffing’—the practice of throwing in your keywords as many times as you can in your piece to trick search engines—you want to make sure you still use them repeatedly but strategically in your content. 

SEO Best Practice #3—Make sure there are fewer than 300 words between subheadings.

These are usually H2 or H3 tags, but can also include deeper numbers, like H4 or H5.

Important: If you have more than 300 words in a section, break it up with hierarchical subheadings (H3, H4, etc).

Why? No one wants to read long walls of text! 

You want to make your content easy to read, and adding headings and subheadings can create a better reading experience for your audience and are great places to sprinkle in those keywords!

SEO Best Practice #4—Worry less about specific keywords and more about keyword clusters.

So if you’re writing an article to establish authority and expertise, on–let’s say–thought leadership, you might want to talk about things like:

  • What is thought leadership?
  • How can I write thought leadership?
  • Can someone ghostwrite content for thought leaders?
  • How can I make sure that I establish myself as a thought leader and get found by search engines?
  • Can thought leadership be SEO optimized?

You’ll notice that these things aren’t all using the exact phrasing, but cover topic clusters related to thought leadership. Those are the kinds of things that show search engines that your content is strong and HELPFUL to people searching for information about positioning themselves as thought leaders and making sure they’re getting as much bang out of their content as possible.

Incidentally, I hope I’ve answered all those questions for you here.

If you want to learn more about good SEO practices and the myths of SEO-friendly content, check out the 6 Myths of SEO-Friendly Content

How does your thought leadership and content plan fit into your brand strategy?

Two concepts play a large role in creating your thought leadership content strategy: your audience and brand messaging.

In fact, if you’ve been wondering why as someone who has firmly planted their flag in brand messaging and web copy I’m talking about thought leadership—it’s because in my experience, it’s intrinsically tied to your brand. 

I’ve planted my flag firmly in the marketing space for helping clients with web copy and brand messaging, and have quite a bit of authority in that space. So you may wonder why I’m talking about how to help you become a thought leader…and if this is in my lane.

It is. It absolutely is. And here’s the tie-in…

Creating thought leadership content is much easier when you have a solid grasp of your company’s brand messaging and what your audience needs.

Think back to the Venn diagram I mentioned—what you know and do is on one side, what your audience needs on the other, with the center acting as a guide for your thought leadership. 

Essentially, you’re sharing your brand messaging through your expertise in a way your audience will best consume it.

So if brand messaging and strategy is about FINDING your messaging. Website copy, and content strategy are about SHARING it. And I bridge the two worlds. 

If you don’t have your brand messaging down or want to revamp it, contact me, and we can get started! 

Keep in mind that thought leadership content isn’t just limited to blogs. It’s everywhere you show up and talk about your business.

Want to work together on your thought leadership content?
Here’s how we start:

Step 1: Book a consult and we’ll talk through logistics.

Step 2: If you need to develop thought leadership pillars, I’ll recommend a branding session. (We can chat about that on the call)

Step 3: We write, putting your unique personality and perspective into words that resonate with your audience. (and then we SEO-ify it) 

Want to learn more about how I help companies create b2b content outside of thought leadership? See some of my services here.

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