Over the past three months, I have presented at nine different conferences and each time I’ll add my deck to Slide Share and gladly answer any follow-up questions about the points discussed. However, in this instance I thought it would be a good idea to follow up my most recent presentation with a blog post as there are a number of points I’d like to get across to a wider audience.
Just last Thursday, I attended and spoke at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference and my topic was Content Marketing. This was new territory for me as I usually find myself talking about algorithms, penalties, link building or just generally discussing the search landscape. However, after spending a little bit of time pondering what I would talk about, it occurred to me that content marketing has been a big part of my day-to-day job for a long time, I’d simply referred to it as SEO, because ultimately we invested in it to drive SEO objectives.
This is really where the start of my presentation began; what is content marketing? Why was someone who has been involved in search marketing for the past 10 years now talking about content marketing? The answer to this is in a quote from the Content Marketing Institute:
”Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behaviour”
Now, there were a few things that stood out to me:
1) “Consistently”: This is the key to building trust with an audience, there is no such thing as a one hit wonder when it comes to genuine content marketing.
2) “Relevant and valuable”: Goes without saying really, but from an SEO point of view this hasn’t always been the case.
3) “Changing or enhancing behaviour”: It’s not just about the number of shares, links or tweets, you have to engage your customers.
So again, why is an SEO bothered about any of the above? Content marketing has been around forever and the benefits have been enforced over and over again:
It’s Google’s fault
Instead of telling you why I and the rest of the SEO industry are buzzing around content marketing, I’ll show you instead:
As you can see, search volumes for ‘content marketing’ related queries have been fairly flat since 2004, then in 2011 we started to see small gains, and then for whatever reason in 2013 we saw massive popularity, everyone wants to jump on the content marketing bandwagon. But what the hell happened?
To fully understand what happened here, you need to understand ‘SEO Content Evolution’:
2000 – 2004
Search engines crawled pages and attributed relevancy based on keywords, so we had to get some static text on our pages to rank.
2004 – 2006
It’s all about keyword stuffing. Not only do we need content but it needs to include lots of popular keywords in it.
2006 – 2009
Fresh content, we all need to keep our content fresh so that Google thinks it’s more valuable. Spinning content is born.
2009 – 2011
If you don’t have a blog, you don’t have an SEO strategy. How else are you going to produce 20 new pieces of content every day?
2011 – 2012
The Panda bomb lands! Quick – we all need to replace our poor-quality duplicate content with poor quality unique content.
2012 – 2013
I can’t spam or buy links anymore. Damn I am going to have to produce something worth talking about.
Without engaging content you can no longer deliver organic performance.
So, the point I am trying to make is that up until the last two years, the search industry has not bought into genuine, value-add content marketing, because links were king and content was simply an add on. However, as Google continues to penalise manipulation and put more weight on engagement, more SEOs and digital marketers are turning to content marketing and general content strategy to drive organic performance. Simply put, your content now has to be marketable and not just loaded with keywords.
Content marketing is only going to become more popular
Google will continue to drive this trend in content marketing popularity and has already made multiple changes to reinforce their position:
What Google wants
I have attended three conferences this year where Googlers have presented and have always reinforced that Google want to reward websites that are:
Ultimately, you have to create and maintain a great user experience.
Return to Search
Return to search, dwell time, return to SERP etc…. Whatever you want to call it, this is something that Google and other search engines are definitely looking at.
Your goal should be that when a visitor lands on your page, the content answers all of their needs, encouraging their next action to remain with you. If your content does not encourage them to remain with you, they will leave. The search engines can get a sense of this by watching the dwell time.” Duane Forrester – Bing
If you are driving search traffic that is not engaging with your audience, then expect to lose rankings. Content strategy is a great way to optimise your site for user engagement, not necessarily for keywords.
You might have two million back links but that doesn’t necessarily make you popular. Myself and others are convinced that Google uses search data to understand the popularity of your brand. If 100,000 people are searching for your business every single month, then Google understands that you’re a result that is in demand, ultimately you can be trusted more than a brand no one searches for.
This kind of popularity and brand awareness can be driven through your content marketing efforts.
Expert, Authority, Trust
You will have no doubt seen that Google’s ‘human rater handbook’ was leaked again and has given us all significant clues into how Google determines quality.
I’ll spare you all the details here as there are many articles that cover this already:
However, the fact is; Google is using human evaluators to feedback not only on the quality of your website and content, but also on who is behind it and ultimately if you can be trusted. They are even encouraged to read reviews to gage the general sentiment of your business and judge the customer experience that you offer.
Another manual action
That’s right, if you have a website with thin or low value content, don’t be surprised to wake up one morning with a message in Webmaster Tools advising you of a manual action. This manual action is supposedly to penalise websites that are producing content with the sole purpose of manipulating search engines without a thought to the users that might stumble upon it.
So what I am saying is simple, your content marketing/strategy efforts have to genuinely provide value, genuinely be worth talking about and genuinely influence your audience. That’s it.
So why are we still getting it wrong?
We have already defined what content marketing is and why we should be investing in it (to change or enhance consumer behaviour), however, nearly every person I speak to in digital marketing is still struggling to justify the investment, not really understanding the benefit they are getting from content marketing activities.
As you can guess from the title, I am going to come at this from an SEO angle, but first I think it is really important to go over some myths that drive false expectations:
Good content doesn’t need promotion
Agencies are great at pitching cool ideas, but unfortunately, a cool idea is rarely ever enough to drive real business objectives, in fact even a perfectly executed content marketing campaign will fail if it lacks a solid promotional strategy. The internet is littered with great pieces of content that have lacked solid promotion, and therefore been of no use to anyone. If you want your content marketing activity to deliver against business objectives and especially SEO objectives, then you need to promote, both pre and post launch.
Content marketing directly influences acquisition
If you expect to launch your content marketing campaign and start seeing increased sales and revenue immediately, then you have the wrong idea about content marketing. The whole idea of content marketing is creating something for your customers, to engage their interests and passions and not yours. It’s a slow burner; build up trust first through consistently delivering valuable content.
Social is the ultimate measure of success
This is a truly terrible way to measure your content marketing success, yes, you want people to tweet, like, share etc… But it has to be the right kind of people; the audience you want to engage with, otherwise how are you influencing consumers?
We see lots of content paraded at conferences as massive successes, but what did they actually deliver? 10,000 ‘likes’ from people around the globe but you only sell to people in the UK? Retweeted 500 times by people who barely engaged with the actual content?
If you’re going to use social to measure success, then at least ensure that the audience is targeted and is actually engaging with your content.
Too many agencies will create a piece of content, pay for a few thousand ‘likes’ and declare it a success.
Great content means lots of links
Another huge fallacy; even websites with engaged, loyal audiences will struggle to garner more than 20 links to a piece of content. So you can imagine my face when a client asks for hundreds of links from their first piece of content marketing.
Yes, I am sure there are pieces of content out there with hundreds of links, but they are few and far between, and sometimes agencies will create the content and go out and buy links anyway.
Where are your links placed? Which publications have covered your activity? Are they on sites where your audience is likely to engage? Are they driving traffic? These are all more important than the raw number of links achieved.
Give me 10 links from high authority websites that are ‘spot on’ in terms of target audience, rather than 100 from random blogs based around the world.
So what makes content marketing successful?
There are lots of things that are going to make your content marketing a success:
However, if I was looking to invest in content marketing from an SEO point view, I would be looking to meet the following objectives:
No, it’s not all about links; however content marketing is a great way of delivering natural, high authority links, so why wouldn’t you build this in? To do this your idea needs to be ‘link worthy’ as well as ‘share worthy’, and these can be two entirely separate things. To make sure your piece of content is as link worthy as possible I would:
a) Work with popular bloggers/publishers to research and plan your content marketing campaign, this almost guarantees launch coverage.
b) Collect data, either through the actual piece of content or through a traditional survey. When it comes to link acquisition – data and insight are king.
c) Focus on your target audience; make sure the links you get are in front of people that might actually consider clicking on them.
As I’ve touched on above, engagement is a key factor to higher rankings; if you are going to create something then you want people to interact with it, whether it’s a written article or a cool quiz. Increased website engagement will help improve rankings and also increase the number of people who come back looking for you again, which leads into my next point…
Your content marketing should encourage users to come back and look for you again, it should be clearly branded so that they know who to attribute the awesome piece of work to. This is a difficult one to attribute to content marketing directly, but a metric you should be measuring is ‘brand’ searches, how many people are looking for you on Google. You can use the keyword planner, but it’s probably a better indication to use Google trends to monitor search popularity.
These three elements can be measured and will contribute to your overall organic visibility.
Of course, there are many more benefits to content marketing, however businesses will always need to justify investment in content and increased SEO performance is one of the best ways to do this in the world of digital.