Content Strategy and Content Marketing have been getting a huge amount of attention this year for a number of reasons and I wanted to discuss our views on these strategies and how best to use them as part of an SEO campaign.
The interesting thing about the focus on content strategy is that it’s not a new strategy at all. Content strategy has been around for years. Bill Gates talked about “content is king” in 1996, Jakob Nielsen in 1997 and the “content is king” phrase has been in use within the SEO industry since around 2003 with SEObook and seroundtable discussing content as an SEO strategy in early 2004. This isn’t cutting edge SEO – people have been doing it for nearly a decade.
Content Strategy & Google
Is content marketing a white hat way of doing SEO? It certainly is but as with any white hat strategy people will push the boundaries and plenty of people have been using content marketing in a way that isn’t really aligned with what Google wants to see. For example, consider a retailer with 5,000 product pages with below average quality product descriptions and a blog with lots of successful linkbait style posts. Does the fact that lots of people link to the blog mean that the product or other commercial pages are a better destination for Google to send searchers to? Probably not so why should the site rank higher for commercial queries?
If Matt Cutts was to give you advice on how to make the site above better do you think he would suggest improving the content of main site first or doing some linkbait/infographics?
If the blog is outsourced to a writer or an agency and just contains linkbait posts then I would argue that this should have no impact on SEO because it doesn’t affect the quality or usefulness of the actual landing page that a user is going to end up on. If the blog is written by the site owner (perhaps with help from the agency) and is full of interesting information and shows that the business is passionate and knowledgeable about the products then this is a totally different proposition and it should definitely affect the rankings of the product pages.
There is a key principle here and one that will be very important in a year or two. You have to make your content strategy defensible and make sure it never looks like you were doing it to gain links.
The key principle about content strategy is that the number 1 goal is to make your site better – getting more links is secondary.
Looking at the examples above it’s clear that if you are going to invest in content strategy (which is a long term investment, Rand says up to 5 years) then you have to get it right and not run the risk of your strategy being devalued once Google sees too many people succeeding with it. There are plenty of sites who are not willing to sort out the main part of their site so they try to generate rankings by using a content marketing strategy via a blog or other section of the site – this isn’t aligned very well with the Google desire to rank the best sites at the top.
The best content strategy to have is to actually optimise your commercial landing pages to make them as good as they can be before investing time and effort to build fantastic blog posts, infographics and other amazing linkbait pages for your site. It’s a far better investment to make sure your product pages, category pages and any other commercial landing pages that make up the main part of your site are absolutely first class in terms of content and design before you start to spend time putting content elsewhere.
Google wants to send users to the best possible result for a particular query because they see the value in keeping their users happy. If you neglect the content strategy for your commercial pages then Google will stop ranking them no matter how many fantastic blog posts or other great & well linked pages you have on your site.
When you invest in content strategy, start with your commercial pages!
Do people love your pages?
It’s unquantifiable, tough to explain to clients & impossible to make a business case for but site quality and how much your users love your site is a major ranking factor these days.
Google can tell whether people love your website & is rewarding the most loved websites with higher rankings. Panda downgraded sites that people didn’t love – why wouldn’t Google reward sites that people do love?
Hundreds of user engagement signals are analysed and fed into an artificial intelligence algorithm. The algorithm learns how to detect whether users love a site or not (probably with the help of seed sites). Remember, Chrome has 33% market share & Analytics is in use on over 10m websites.
So if user engagement and making users love your site is so important you cannot ignore content strategy for the actual pages that they are driven to on the site. We often speak to clients who neglect the content on their commercial pages but are happy to invest lots in a great blog or some infographics. This is the wrong way round – you have to sort your primary pages first.
What can we do with the site?
Once you have sorted all your commercial pages a big part of content strategy is figuring out what new pages need to exist on the site and again this should be done to make the site more useful rather than to attract links. Sections like Q&A are great as they have lots of natural language content that can attract long tail visitors.
The image above shows a very top line view of how we would start thinking about a content strategy for a client.