I sat with some of the best SEOs and content marketers out there from the iAcquire inbound marketing team to talk about recent trends and strategies in content marketing and search engine optimization. We did an innovative interactive panel-format lecture for graduate students at NYU, where I teach a search marketing class within M.S. in Integrated Marketing program. You can both watch the YouTube video below and read the transcript of the panel discussion, which includes a lot of supportive materials via iAcquire and Profero.
Check out the video below to learn expert content marketing tips & seo strategies, including:
- What is the difference between content marketing and content strategy
- Why you need content strategy
- How to create share-worthy and link-worthy content
- How to build links with content
- How to build content with a built-in audience
- How to guide users through your website
- How to use data to improve the performance of your content
- How to use audience personas to build better websites
- What are the best practices and tools to attract audience and build links with infographics and visualizations
- When is the right time to engage an SEO expert when building or redesigning a website?
- What are the top SEO tips in 2013
Content Marketing Tips & SEO Strategies panel at NYU
Devin Asaro (@devsaro), Content Strategist at iAcquire
Norris A.A. Rowley Jr. (@norrocwell), Market Research at iAcquire
In addition, big shout out to Lavall Chichester (@mrchichester), SEO Manger at Profero and Founder of SpreadLove.org for recording, producing and editing the video, and to Black Ice Studios for the opening tunes.
Below are the key take-aways from the entire NYU panel. The content is enriched by additional insights and supportive materials that are meant to provide a better perspective on the recent content marketing and SEO trends and strategies. The video was edited to manageable size.
MATTHEW CAPALA: When you buy products online, download something or look for information you usually don’t think about how relevant content got in front of you. In fact, you have various content marketing and SEO experts, like the iAcquire team here, who make those things happen… slicing the data, building personas, and target you with engaging content that fulfills your needs. There’s a lot of strategy behind it, right? So, my question is, what’s the difference between content marketing and content strategy? Those two terms get mixed up often so it is important to get it right at the outset.
Content marketing vs. content strategy?
DEVIN ASARO: Content marketing is just marketing. But we just use the term content now because people care about it and it’s a buzzword. Content marketing is part of the content strategy cycle. In other words, it’s the marketing part of the content strategy cycle. So, we have: measuring the content, planning for the content, looking at the audience, creating the content, releasing the content, and then marketing. So content marketing is sort of how we promote content and how we get it out to people. It’s just part of your marketing strategy.
MIKE KING: Yeah, and people will think they’re the same thing, but content marketing doesn’t inherently mean content strategy, but it should. A lot of people would just make a piece of content and they’ll throw it out there and hope it does something. Whereas if you have an actual strategy involved, then you can plan where that content’s going to live, who’s going to own it, how are you going to put it out there, how are you going to maintain it. So, really, content marketing is a late-stage result of content strategy.
Great deck on the topic of content from Mike King below
If you are a small business or a start-up, we did a great interview with John Doherty on Small Business Content Marketing & SEO Tips.
MATTHEW CAPALA: Great points. In addition, great content costs a lot of money. You just have to spend, spend, spend, and be very persistent in your approach. Content marketing is a long-term play – it is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to make a strong case to your clients or bosses to make it happen. In reality, it is usually like one, two or three big content pushes a year, and then nothing is happening. Most brands fail in their approach to marketing through content because they don’t have a strategy. So with content strategy, what you want to do is create a repeatable and scalable process. It’s like a heart beat or going to the gym every day. You want to provoke the conversation on social media. You want to do frequent content posting on your blog or video posting on YouTube. But you need to do it in a scalable and repeatable manner. So that’s why you need a strategy behind that. You plan ahead. For example, you need to plan the content calendar six months ahead. It’s not, you know, two, three big content campaigns a year and then you do nothing expecting results. That will not get your SEO going!
Below I included a deck where I dive deeper into the topic of content marketing vs. content strategy.
MIKE KING: Absolutely. Like you were saying, it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. Most people give up after early on because they tried content marketing for couple weeks or months and concluded that it didn’t work. The key is to be persistent over time and take it to the finish line where you’re supposed to finally reap the benefits. The content calendar is very important because you have to commit to what you know you can scaleably do, and you will continue to do over time. So, if you’re like, “Yeah, we want to do infographics!” and you do two, or three, and you’re like, “Oh, it’s not really going anywhere” – then you’re never going to see the content marketing rewards. However, if you blog twice a week and you just stay on that for couple months, then you’re definitely going to see the rewards. And if you can’t do that, then just stick to paid search or display ads or something else.
DEVIN ASARO: One of the big questions to think about is you want a lot of content, and you want it all to be good, but you have to ask yourself how often can you make content that’s good? Not just how often can you make content. I mean it’s great to have a blog that’s updated every day, but if the content is no good and you’re spending all of your resources just trying to do that, it’s not going to be as successful. That said, maybe one or two good blog posts a week that people like and can count on is your best shot. You need to be strategic – you can actually take the energy that you would’ve been using to create frequent content sacrificing its quality and put it into creating one or two things that are very good and then promoting the hell out of it for the rest of the week.
For more on the topic of content check out the interview we did with Rosie Siman from 360i: Content Marketing Tips: From Social Listening to Content Optimization to SEO
How to build links with content?
MATTHEW CAPALA: First, you should not call it “link building.” I would call it content promotion. Google has targeted sites that attempt to build links through link farms or submitting to low-quality directories with recent anti-spam algorithm updates, such as Panda and Penguin. Low quality guest-blog posting or article marketing are devalued by Google as well. That said, content marketers and SEOs should redefine the ways they try to promote content. Targeted outreach is key.
MIKE KING: Link building is a big picture initiative. It affects and is affected by the outward communication of the brand. Tying it to a big idea or a bigger picture campaign is far more effective than most of traditional SEO tactics. The most effective ways to build links naturally is to make news or make friends. Brands are in a unique position to do so due to their brand equity, leverage that.
MATTHEW CAPALA: In a world where bloggers are journalists and consumers look for news on Google and YouTube, SEO and PR teams need to be like husband and wife – synched up and synergized to drive inbound marketing results. Traditional link building is dead and needs to be replaced by innovative content promotion strategies, centered around PR outreach and leveraging existing brand’s relationships. For enterprise-level brands PR can be link building 2.0, but only if SEO is involved.
How will you differentiate between share-worthy and link-worthy content?
DEVIN ASARO: Well, I think share-worthy content is something that’s going to be a little bit more specifically targeted to the social networks you care about most. Not all social networks are created equal. You know, if you’re doing a lot of stuff with micro content, for instance, Twitter’s huge. And if you’re doing more tech-related things, even though the volume’s not there, we’re going to get more people engaged on Google+. For B2B you need to consider Linkedin and so on. So the social channel and content format is more of a consideration for shareability; whereas link-worthy content is much broader and has to do with the quality of content. Is this content good? Are people going to be interested in it? And can we actually get people coming in, rather than spreading it out?
What’s the best way to guide a user through a website?
DEVIN ASARO: I think the idea is you want to create a situation where the user can go where they want to go. So the information that they want is presented to them. And that all comes down to the plan – or content strategy – that you need to have in place before you implement content and navigation on your site. You know that the consumers, like I was saying earlier, are not just interested in buying right away. They are going to research and compare prices and reviews. And if you can give them what they want at the right time you know that they’re going to respond to that. It’s really a matter of knowing, in advance, before you implement content, what your target consumer is after. Who’s going to make you the most money? And who’s most likely to interact with your content and gravitate towards your product?
MIKE KING: Yeah, and really it just goes back to giving them what they want and how they expect it. So, think about sites that are actively pushing you through a funnel. Sites like Amazon make it very clear: here is the information, here are the reviews, here is your shopping cart and so on. Or sites where there is a landing page where it says step one, step two, and step three. Or if it’s a guide of some sort, then on the right side there’ll be a navigation that says, “Here’s how you learn about this or that.” And then it’s drawn you further into the funnel, both visually and from a content standpoint. So, really, you just have to figure out what is it that the people want. How can you make it clear that these are the steps that you need to take to get it.
MATTHEW CAPALA: We talked today that content is king, but keep in mind that usability is the queen. So, you need to think about both when you build websites. You need to bring SEOs, content strategists, analytics and UX experts. Building websites is about teamwork. You also have to learn from data. Where do users go and why?
NORRIS A.A. ROWLEY JR: You can target an audience for a particular piece of content using data and persona-profiling. But you always got to take into account that there’s going to be a portion of that audience that comes to the site to see what they want really quickly, and just leave. And you have to account for the people who come to your site to consume information by the boatload. So if your site is well presented to them, you capture everybody until the sun, but you have to also realize that you might capture people for a second or for three minutes. It just depends on how you want to target that particular persona, in this case, a particular section of the audience. And how you a target them is with data. You will always see some drop-off for any particular audience because some people just browse, but we don’t mind that because we’re going to catch everybody else. It is a numbers game.
NORRIS A.A. ROWLEY JR: So, you just have to make sure that whatever you’re doing as far as the site layout is concerned, it’s driven with the audience in mind to a large degree. Not just in the sense of who’s going to buy something from the site, it really depends on who’s coming to the site and how we might not catch them today, but we’ll catch them later down the line. So it’s a give and take, so to speak.
Check out great read on Persona Research Process and Affinity Mapping by Norris A.A. Rowley JR.
DEVIN ASARO: And one of the things that Mike was talking about expectation, that’s where your metadata comes in. When a user searches the first thing they encounter is the title and the description. You don’t want to just oversell something just to get the click and then they get to the site and that’s not really what they wanted or what you led them to believe they would get. So, being very honest in a convincing way. It is about getting a random user into the site, it’s about getting a qualified user that actually want to be there and knows what they’re getting.
For more on how to write killer metadata, check out the Art of SEO blog post by Devin Asaro.
How to attract audience and build links with infographics and visualizations?
MIKE KING: There are a lot of infographic tools. There’s one called Piktochart. There’s Infogram and Visua.ly. And they’re all drag-and-drop easy-link tools for building infographics. I mean, if you know anything about Photoshop that’s where you should really make it. There’s a tool called Storyburg for making online books. And they’re like flip book type things. Anything that you can think of that’s cool you can make with the tools that are available.
MATTHEW CAPALA: Building an infographic is not rocket science. But it’s the idea that counts. Proving something new, providing something that people really like and want to engage with. The SEO tools will make the idea happen, but you need to spend more time thinking about what it is you want to say than saying it with images and charts. The latter is easy. Best practice is to think of about maybe five, six points you want to make. Don’t over kill it on one infographic. That is a common pitfall. Avoid clutter.
DEVIN ASARO: Your infographic should tell one very focused story. Essentially making one point with a few sort of branches. But sometimes, it’s like they want to cram everything under the sun and it just doesn’t resonate.
MATTHEW CAPALA: And I like what Norris said earlier about the male demographic and the personas you are after: target male demographic with infographic because men like to engage with visual content.
Below I included the infographic Mike King is referring to in the video. It is a good example of how to do it right.
iAcquire Search Behavior Study
What are the best free SEO tools?
MIKE KING: So I have a presentation on my slides with a bunch of SEO tools (see below). It has about 50 different free SEO and content marketing tools that you can use. Some are for collecting data and others are for building infographics. So, you might find that worthwhile. For getting data for info graphics, Survey Monkey is really awesome. We actually just did a series of three info graphics with their data. And then there’s the government data source where you can get a bunch of stuff, like Census data.
When is the right time to engage an SEO expert when building or redesigning a website?
MIKE KING: You want to engage SEO as early as possible. So, typically what happens is when the site is built, there is a strategy brief that is put together. They hand that off to the SEO team and then the creative team puts it together. So, at that point, they generally have an idea of what it’s going to be. It also depends what team the content strategist is on, because sometimes they’re on creative, sometimes they’re on strategy. And they figure out what’s going to be on the site. So that’s probably the best point to bring in SEO, when they’re figuring out that concept. Because as soon as they have an idea, they’re going to start saying, ok, this page is going to be this, and so on and so forth. And then we just start looking at keywords and look at the opportunity. So, we won’t necessarily be building things at that point, but we can help make sure the strategy is the write one.
DEVIN ASARO: Branding is also important from search and content marketing perspective. It’s really key because when you’re figuring out who you want to be, it really helps to figure out who your customers want you to be and what type of keywords they will use to find you. Because if you can be what you’re looking for that really helps you become a brand that resonates. So, having search involved really early in the process is great for figuring out your identity.
MIKE KING: You get built-in traffic to your site if you build it the right way. The way I’ve always explained it, when I worked at creative agencies, is that building websites without SEO is like building cars with no engine. It is like you guys are building really beautiful cars, with no engine, and then pushing them uphill with paid media. And then they roll back down once your budget dries. Now, if you use SEO as the engine, then you’ll have a car that keeps going.
For more insights on the Holistic SEO Process check out an article via Mike King via SEOMoz.
Is it hard to optimize a website that is already built? Do you always need to pull it apart?
MIKE KING: If you only have two or three people working on site it’s easy. But when you have these committees that keep fighting about every different keyword and every piece of copy, and what the budget is spent on, then it’s hard.
MATTHEW CAPALA: You need to bring in SEOs when the strategic decisions are made as far as the budget and the type of technologies that will be used. You want to influence those because SEO is a strategic business function. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that the SEO team is briefed last. So, let’s say that we’re building a blog, and the blog is built on a blogging platform that is not made for SEO. So we obviously want to push WordPress at that stage. If during the design phase, let’s say, there’s a lot of great imagery and there’s a lot of beautiful story telling about the brand, but it’s not built in responsive design, I would ask the question “why you are doing it that way?” If those decisions are made without you, and then you’re brought in to optimize… I’m like, I cannot do anything because the platform is no good. Then there is site build and CMS considerations. So that’s technical SEO. At that stage you have to make sure you look at a site map, and you start mapping keywords and titles and stuff like that. So I would say engage SEO as early as possible. It doesn’t require SEOs to sit in every meeting or build like 100 different decks. I think there’s just way too much of deckware in the industry. Just ask us the right questions at the right time. So, our job is to educate the key stakeholders on the process.
MIKE KING: Yeah, when you have a good developer who is working closely with you and you say those things, they’re like – oh yeah, that’s easy. We can fix that really quickly. But then you typically come up against the developers who don’t care about SEO as much. So, it’s hard to get them to change the idea when they’ve already built something that works for the goals that the client gave them. Even basic things like: Does it get users on the site? Can they sign in with Facebook? Can they do all those really simple things? Or have they accounted for the old URLs with 301 redirects? Sometimes sites launch with no meta description and things of that nature. So, you’re job as an SEO is very much like the checks and balances. Nobody wants their work to be checked, basically
What’s the impact of the recent eBay study about the effectiveness of paid search study on SEO?
MIKE KING: I don’t know if you guys are all familiar, but eBay basically came up and said paid search wasn’t working. I don’t think that means much for the SEO industry, because most people that would care are already doing SEO, and the people that care more about paid search weren’t going to do SEO. So, I don’t know how much that changes the conversation for large brands because they’ll just put more money into social, or something like that. They’re like, OK, I put in one dollar, I get fifty cents back, or however it works. But when it comes to SEO there’s just too many moving parts. You have to be aware of an algorithm, you have to build links, you have to make changes to your site. Whereas paid media is like, we paid money and now stuff happens. So, that’s not going to make SEO a bigger channel.
Check out my POV on the Effectiveness of Paid Search Ads via Search Marketing Standard.
DEVIN ASARO: And in the study we just did with SurveyMonkey we found that 50% of people cannot tell the difference between a paid search ad and the search result.
MIKE KING: And that’s by design from Google, because, for them, they make their money from paid search ads. That’s why you see that they’re continuing to change that background color to like a very clear pink, now you can barely tell. [Laughter] So, they’re going to continue to do stuff like that. You’re seeing that they’re pushing organic search further below the fold. Like, some searches, they have all types of stuff. They have the knowledge grab, they have these big sections that scroll, and they’re answering your questions so you don’t have to go to sites for like, what is my IP address anymore. So, they’re going to continue to do things that keep you on their site.
If you had to pick one thing in 2013 that will drive big results for SEO, what would it be?
NORRIS A.A. ROWLEY JR: Well, I guess it’s a pet peeve of mine, is that a lot SEO agencies don’t use data to back up their claims as far as why you should be targeting this particular keyword. Why should we be focused on this piece of content? Why would you be purchasing X, Y, Z? It’s more of like OK, well that ranks as one, that’s it. There’s nothing to really say, OK, this piece of data we found that x amount of Americans within x age group are clicking on this key word. Maybe we should target this for this reason. It’s just OK, we’re just going to do it because common practice says we should do it. So, the fact that, I mean, I’m a little biased because I’m into research, but I feel that SEO’s should be more of a… I think the biggest problem of SEO, and this is something I see all the time, is that SEO run by a bunch of nerds. No offense, Mike. SEO is run by a bunch of nerds, and nor marketers. It’s run by a bunch of people who are brilliant, smart. Can build you codes with an abacus. They’re these smart people on a different level, but they don’t know a thing about marketing an item or a product. But how do you market to somebody’s who’s under eighteen? who’s black? who lives in Oklahoma? “I don’t know that, but Google changed their algorithm last week!” – there is too much focus on the algorithm and not enough focus on marketing and what the users want. So it’s, like my biggest pet peeve about SEO. SEO should be more based on data-driven results and not just on how you think this particular person’s going to search for a keyword, per se. That’s my nugget.
DEVIN ASARO: I think with brands that begin to think about the differences in social networks are going to do really well when they begin to create a targeted language and targeted messaging to specific social networks using things like social metadata. I think that’s going to becomes something that people care a lot more about, and that brands care a lot more about, and that will drive a lot of results.
MIKE KING: I think the number one thing you should do is to learn how to tell a story. I mean, it’s not about advertising. Some people look at SEO as an ad channel. That’s not what it is. People are trying to discover content. So, if you want to win, you have to create the content that is unforgettable. The content that people want to share, and want to link to, because if you’re doing that… even if you’re not doing the technical part of SEO, you can win just through the sheer fact that people wanted this and that they liked it enough. So, telling a story, and making the content that people care about is the one thing I would say you should do.
MATTHEW CAPALA: Okay so data, social, and really, good storytelling and great content. I think authorship and Google’s agent rank will be key. I think Google’s trying to get smarter, so as far as where content originates and who creates it. I think you have to add the authorship into your SEO strategy mix. Just because Google is really trying to understand who the content is coming from. I think it goes above and beyond guest blog posting. I think it’s more than that. But I think Google is trying to understand who the owner is, so authoritative authors would pass that equity onto your site and your digital ecosystem. All right guys, amazing panel.
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