I initially wrote and submitted this blog post to Sparksheet, an award-winning multimedia magazine. Dan Levy, the editor at Sparksheet, offered really great tips on how to tighten the focus of my original submission to explore the topic of how SEO and content marketing are converging.
I submitted a total of 2,364 words piece, which Dan and I then trimmed to about 920 and published as 5 Insights About the Convergence of Content Marketing and SEO.
At first I wanted to re-write the paragraphs I used in Sparkheet in fear of Google treating this post as duplicate content. However, after attending the SMX East conference this week, Eric Enge from Stone Temple Consulting helped me understanding some of the major shifts that are happening around Google’s algorithm and the way Google bots treat duplicate content.
Eric proved that Google is totally cool with my situation because I have provided additional value to the reader. To be specific I have provided 1,444 ‘additional value’ content. I highly recommend viewing Eric’s deck he presented at SMX here.
10 Shifts in SEO and Content Marketing
Content marketing is one of the hottest topics in business in 2013, and rightly so. With about 160 million blogs online and 4 billion hours of video being watched every month on YouTube, there is, without a doubt, a huge opportunity for businesses to connect with their consumers via compelling content.
However, in a world where 80% of consumers use search for a product before purchasing it, brands need a holistic approach to content marketing that emphasizes creative and performance equally.
While businesses are enthusiastic about publishing content, most companies fail in their approach to content marketing. Content marketing initiatives often underperform because big creative ideas are rarely integrated with a data-driven, performance-based approach. Great content can go unnoticed without SEO, while SEO-led content can do poorly because it is not compelling.
The next generation of marketers and business leaders need to be fully versed in inbound marketing strategies, including: SEO, blogging, content, email, PR and social media. Professional education plays an important role here and needs to catch up with the high-speed digitalization of business and consumerism. There are way too many marketing MBAs from top universities out there who don’t understand the basics of inbound marketing.
Recently, I sat with some of the smartest inbound marketers in the industry from iAcquire at NYU, where I teach a graduate class on search marketing, to discuss the major shifts in content marketing and SEO in 2013. We did an innovative, interactive panel-format lecture for graduate students in the Integrated Marketing program. Below I included the summary of key insights and takeaways, along with the key quotes from the panelists. You can also check out the full video of the panel along with the transcript and tons of supportive materials on Search Decoder blog.
Matthew Capala, Adjunct Professor at NYU, Head of Search at Profero
Mike King, Director of Inbound Marketing at iAcquire, Global Associate at Moz
Devin Asaro, Content Strategist at iAcquire
Norris A.A. Rowley JR., Market Research & Analytics Manger at iAcquire
User first, algorithm second
I couldn’t agree more with David Plotz on SparkSheet when he said: Journalism designed solely around search engines is journalism that I am not interested in, that most readers aren’t interested in.
Neither am I, David. SEOs have contributed to a massive amount of spam and poor-quality content on the Web: among other things we broke directories, spammed the comments on blogs, and bought and traded links… all designed to game Google’s algorithm and push mediocre content toward the top in keyword rankings. Those days are over.
However, content marketers still need to understand how the search algorithm works to make their content perform on Google or Facebook’s Graph Search. The algorithm is essentially ‘machine learning trying to be human.’ The game change is that as marketers, we can’t be merely concerned about ‘the keyword’ – you must optimize your content to relate to ‘who’ typed it into the search box. So, don’t chase the algorithm; get in front of it.
Convergence of SEO and content marketing
In a recent post on CMI, Content Marketing vs. SEO: The Truth Behind a Ridiculous Debate, Barry Feldman of Feldman Creative rightly noted:
You could make the case that SEO is content marketing. Search engine optimization is a misnomer anyway. It seems to suggest you optimize the search engine. Clearly, you cannot and do not. You optimize online content.
Barry’s statement illustrates a larger shift in SEO. The industry is still trying to redefine itself after Google rolled out the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. SEO must adapt and develop into a more strategic, cross-functional business unit.
The key players in the SEO world have already evolved, marking the significant change that is upon us. SEOMoz has rebranded to Moz, emphasizing “inbound marketing” in their branding strategy in place of SEO. iAcquire has evolved from an SEO specialty-shop focused on link building to a holistic digital strategy agency. Distilled’s slogan is now “smarter online marketing.” I can provide a litany of similar examples.
Digital agencies would do well to focus expanding horizontally rather than vertically in order to position themselves for this shift in the market. They need to find ways to break the silos and integrate planning, UX, SEO, creative and PR in a holistic way. Aaron Reitkopf, our Americas CEO at Profero, made a great point on the future of advertising in Fast Company, saying: There’s never been a better time to be in advertising, and there’s never been a worse time.
The key analytics tools have evolved as well, offering a more holistic view of content performance, from keyword ranks and visits to social sharing and inbound links.
The fact of the matter is that content marketers need to practice SEO and SEOs need to practice content marketing. This shift calls for many to hone their skills and learn new things. If you want to learn the basics of SEO, check out the Beginners Guide to SEO via Moz.
Content marketing is not content strategy
Content marketing is a long-term play – it is a marathon, not a sprint. Most brands fail in their approach to marketing with content because they haven’t developed an effective content strategy that is centered on user personas and data. The objective is to create a repeatable and scalable process of building great content with a built-in audience, instead of building content to seek audience. It’s like a heartbeat or going to the gym every day.
Content marketing is the late stage of content strategy. If you are involved in any type of content marketing you need a content strategy. If you don’t know where to start, I strongly recommend reading Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach. It includes not only detailed instructions on how to develop content strategy, but also great advice on how to get the buy-ins to make it happen.
Publishing frequency matters, but only if content is good
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. – Devin Asaro
The necessity of having a blog on your site is not really debatable. According to HubSpot: Companies that blog receive 55% more website traffic and B2C companies that blog receive 88% more leads than those who don’t.
The topic of content frequency is my pet peeve because it is often abused and taken to extremes, especially when it comes to blogging and branded content. It is either too frequent to retain a certain level of quality, or too infrequent to make any difference. Follow Devin’s advice and ask yourself: How often can I create content that is good? Content frequency does impact customer acquisition (see chart below via HubSpot) but if the content is not good, your audience will move away and your efforts will be counter-product
Having a content calendar is key at this stage – you want to have a plan in place with assigned roles and responsibilities that are challenging but realistic. Content marketing is like a healthy heartbeat: you need macro content campaigns, micro content pushes, and you need to provoke the conversion daily on social networks and through blogging.
PR is your new best friend
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. Traditional link building is dead and needs to be replaced by innovative content promotion strategies, centered on PR outreach and leveraging existing brand relationships. For enterprise-level brands, digital PR is the link building 2.0, but only if SEO is involved.
You need to have a well thought out content promotion strategy in place to optimize the performance of your content, from paid media to social. However, anybody who has ever done any SEO knows that outreach is a very effective content promotion tool. The problem with SEOs handling outreach is that they focus on getting a link at scale instead of designing the right pitch and building long-term relationships. You should leverage your PR team to design a better outreach and have your SEO team prospect relevant sites with high PageRank to engage.
Link building is about making friends or making news
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 traditional SEO tactics. The most effective ways to build links naturally are to make news or make friends. Brands are in a unique position to do so due to their brand equity – leverage that. – Mike King
In the past, Google had rewarded content that primarily had the most inbound links from quality sources. This caused a massive amount of spam on the Web, and Google introduced a bunch of updates to its algorithms to combat ‘unnatural’ link building. After Penguin 2.0, old link building tactics have become obsolete. SEOs need to focus on great content, leveraging social media, UX and PR. There are no shortcuts. According to Matt Cutts, the head of Google Web Spam team: The objective is not to make your links appear natural, the objective is that your links are natural.
SEO at the outset
You get built-in traffic to your site if you build it the right way and optimize your content. Building websites without SEO is like building 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. – Mike King
The best time to engage SEO is when the concept is being defined. Building a great website with great content is all about teamwork. One of the biggest issues at creative agencies is that SEOs are brought in late in the process – they are sent a sitemap to research and map keywords, write page titles and meta descriptions. It is not the right way to go about it – SEOs should have an impact on the strategic decisions, such as picking the right CMS, defining the content strategy and site structure. John Doherty, Head of NY office at Distilled, made a great point at SearchLove: SEO is about effecting change, not pulling reports.
Data-driven content marketing
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 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. And how you a target them is with data. – Norris A.A. Rowley JR.
The most important factor in connecting with your audience is to give them what they want at the right time. If you engage in content marketing and you don’t have personas developed and validated by quantitative research, start over. You need to make content decisions based on data so that you build content with a built-in ROI. Measure and test everything.
Great content that is optimized and targeted towards pre-defined personas pulls your audience in naturally, so don’t get too pushy. You want to limit choice and drive a user through your content towards your calls-to-action, aligning with user personas but avoiding overselling unless you target lower-funnel keywords. Rand Fishkin, the Founder and CEO of Moz, put it best: A nudge is mightier that a sword.
Infographics and data visualizations
Building an infographic is not rocket science from the design perspective – it’s the idea that counts. You need to build something that people really like and want to engage with and share. Best practice is to think of about maybe five, six points you want to make. Don’t overkill it. That is a common pitfall. Avoid clutter.
Infographics and data visualizations are great performing content because they give you an ability to outreach to other sites to embed them and point links and traffic back to your site, while positioning your brand as a thought leader on topics that matter to your consumers. Here is an example of a great infographic about Love’s Effect on Human Development.
Share-worthy vs. link-worthy content
Not all social networks are created equal. 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 yet, 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? – Devin Asaro
It is very important that you define the objective of your content before you create it. If you are engaging in a micro-content campaign, for example, on Tumbler or Vine, keep in mind that your objective is sharibility. Micro content will not do much for you from a link building perspective. You also need to optimize your social meta data so that when that content is shared it travels with the right message. Here is a great post from Mike King on all the types of meta tags that you need to incorporate into your content marketing arsenal: 18 Meta Tags Every Webpage Should Have in 2013.