Content marketing has been around for years, but until recently Google was not making good on their word to rank content that deserves to rank. Instead, we could all easily find examples where sites were ranking off of low quality directories, link wheels, blog networks, and many other tactics. But since Penguin, Panda, and the myriad of other algorithm changes this year, SEOs have started to finally embrace content as a viable means, but we’re still running into old mindsets from clients, and honestly a lot of SEOs are not good at creating linkworthy content.
Interest in content marketing has grown this year:
Tom Critchlow published a post on Distilled back in February called The Time For Content Marketing Is Now. This got the SEO world abuzz and people have been writing ridiculous posts about “SEO is Dead, Content Strategy is the Future”, so this is not one of those posts.
Instead, we’re going to cover briefly:
- Why Content
- Why Other Industries Are Better at Content Than We Are
- What To Do About It
- Why SEOs Are Well Positioned to Leverage Content
- Where To Go From Here
We need to first examine why people who blog (such as myself) do so. In my experience, a blog (or any kind of consistently updated media) is useful for keeping your brand front of mind. If you have a consistent blog that is well-read with content that reaches users, you can keep attracting links.
But links are not the purpose of blogging. Blogging has the following purposes, in my opinion:
- It shows your thought leadership;
- It can be used to consistently educate your readers;
- Depending on your niche, it can drive conversions and business inquiries.
But a blog isn’t the only way to do this, and many times a blog does not fit a specific vertical. Jeff Goins says it well in this post:
“What if I don’t know why you should read my blog? What if I just blog to blog?”Frankly, that’s not good enough. You have something to say. If you don’t know what it is, then you’re probably not saying it. You owe to yourself to take this blogging thing seriously. Otherwise, why bother wasting your time?
If you’re just blogging to blog, you’re wasting your time. The brands winning online are not just blogging anymore.
Why Content Beyond Blogging?
When we’re talking about content strategy from an SEO perspective, we have to ask “why are we producing content?” Our job is to increase traffic and rankings, and not only that but traffic and rankings that convert. So we focus on keywords that are driving conversions and then try to move them up in the rankings.
First, allow me to point out that if you want to increase rankings for specific keywords, you do not need to produce new content just anywhere on your site. If you are engaging in a content campaign, such as a series of guides or visualizations, it is difficult to use these to get links back to a specific product page for example.
Is it possible? Yes it’s possible, but these are also the sorts of tactics that Google will probably be trying to discount soon enough, especially sneaky redirected linkbait and such. So any content we put on these pages needs to fit with the intent of the users, and not just be there for ranking/links sake.
The reasons for creating new pages of content are various, but include:
- Longtail traffic
- Targeting keywords you have not yet targeted
- Thought leadership
We all know that to rank for competitive keywords, you need a combination of:
- Relevancy to the phrase
And as you know, what it takes to rank in different verticals differs. Some verticals prefer fresh content, so editorial content will win:
But some don’t, like this search for [stickers]:
Text content alone, or even the type of content that we know gets links (with images and videos), will not rank for head terms in most verticals. So much more is involved. We’re past the 2008 days of “creating blog content so that crawlers will see fresh content.” That died back when Google introduced Caffeine to crawl the web in realtime thus putting an end to the Google-dance. Google’s technology has progressed, so we must as well.
Tell Me More
Smart brands these days are investing heavily in content to create richer pages that deserve to rank. SEOmoz has their SEO blog that has a lot of links to it, but they also have the Beginner’s Guide to SEO which is getting close to having as many links and ranks for tough head terms.
Here are a few examples:
Even more technical companies are investing in it, like SimplyBusiness with their WordPress guide:
And this one, MyAssetTag, a very B2B technical niche, with their visualization:
Coke gets it:
So does Google:
Other industries are better at content production than we are
Let’s face it – good content is ridiculously hard. We’re currently working on DistilledU at Distilled. You may not realize this, but each module we write is at least a few thousand words and takes us about 20 hours end-to-end. This includes writing, editing, rewriting, coding, and setting it live.
SEOs have a hard time thinking past keywords and “Google ranks”. We have a difficult time seeing the bigger objectives of businesses beyond rankings. I often hear “My job is to get the site ranking. After that, it’s their responsibility”.
Agencies like HUGE can create a good looking site, like this one for Barney’s:
But using an SEO agency could have helped them improve their SEO and their content strategy, such as on this page with minimal content:
Or KTM. They make amazing motorcycles and their fans produce content like this that they are not leveraging on their site. It’s sad really.
It’s time to get away from ROI
We’re all asked frequently, I’m sure, what the ROI of a piece of content or an activity will be. Clients or bosses want us to account for every minute or every activity in an attempt to tie it back. This is part of a misunderstood “data-driven” perspective on business and marketing. I believe in being data driven to be sure, but sometimes being data-driven isn’t looking at the individual activities, but on the aggregate whole.
We, and our clients, need to start thinking along the lines of these questions: “Is this content driving links and shares?” “Is it ranking and driving traffic?” “Are we then capturing that traffic so we can convert them later?” Now we’re starting to sound like real marketers…
SEOs are Perfectly Situated To Pitch Content Strategy
SEOs are perfectly situated to pitch content strategy, because a good SEO understands:
- User personas and traffic sources
- Need states and searcher demands
- Content consumption and communities online
- The conversion implications of content
- Information architecture and internal linking
- The technical requirements and considerations for content production (we consult on CMS specifications, WP plugins, CDNs, semantic markup and so on)
- SEO considerations (obviously) including on-page copy as well as broader technical challenges of duplicate content, XML sitemaps, video sitemaps etc
Not only would we be able to get from the data who our customers are:
But we can also figure out the content that they want and then how to optimize it for the search engines:
We can use content to:
- Drive brand awareness;
- Future proof our sites against algorithms by attracting links;
- Educate users (top of funnel content) and drive them to conversion (bottom of funnel content)
- And more.
SEOs Are Not Perfectly Situated to Create Content Always
While we as SEOs are perfectly situated to pitch content, and sometimes execute, we must realize when we are not. Once again, this means more resources and budget are required, but the end result will be better.
One example is at Distilled. We have Mark Johnstone, who was an SEO consultant for a long time but he’s always been passionate about creative content. So, back in March he was made the Head of Creative at Distilled. He has a few designers, both static and interactive, as well as access to a couple of developers and videographers. He defines the strategy, sometimes alongside our head of outreach Adria, but he does not create the content himself. He leverages the skills of others to create it, and then helps to leverage the content through search and social.
For example, I love Colby Almond and think that he is a brilliant viral marketer, but this is an eyesore:
A blog is no longer a content strategy. It can reach a certain persona, if that persona exists for your business, but many times it may not. Why create a blog when you can create, say, a travel guide that will drive people to book a room in your hotel? This content will be more difficult, including images and videos and the like, but the return will be much greater.
At Distilled, we blog twice a week, but we’ve seen a much bigger return from the linkbait guide:
The Excel for SEO guide:
And the video marketing guide:
Let’s go beyond content for freshness and links, and to content for qualified traffic and brand market share.