Content is king. Sure, whatever. Water is also wet, but who cares? Every marketer should know that you need content, and good content, but what does your content really amount to if it’s no different from what everyone else is doing?
Some brands publish content sporadically, and some publish every single day. Why does content marketing work for some brands and fall flat for others? You want your content to be the person who everyone at the party talks to because it’s engaging, not because it’s in their face about how “the right insurance package is really about securing your family’s future in case of the worst.”
So how do you strike that balance where your content is remembered, but for the right reasons? Well, by (1) focusing on your readers’ needs, (2) standing out from the competition, and (3) consistently delivering on its value.
Working with branded content is a constant give and take between the two-headed beast that is marketer vs publisher. Creatively speaking, marketers put their first foot forward by figuring out what it is they want to say. Which is fair; a good marketer knows their brand, and they know how to get their audience to also know the brand.
Publishers on the other hand, reside at the other end of the spectrum; they’re all about what readers want to hear. And having this kind of publisher’s mentality is key to a successful content strategy. In short, your branded content should be all about connecting with your audience through meaningful interactions, not through aggressive value propositions and ad campaigns.
If your audience is already visiting your site, or reading what you have to say, chances are they don’t need the big push that comes from seeing a heavily branded message. This is why with branded content, you’re pushing your marketer’s instinct aside — but not completely away — while taking a customer driven view à la publisher. Yes, sometimes your content must be heavier on the branding (with branded storytelling for example), but subtlety is the golden rule, and all of your branded content should avoid directly schilling for your product or service.
Just as your brand (and its products/services) need to stand out from the competition, so does your content. As Nathan Lump pointed out while at his former post as Director of Branded Content for Condé Nast:
Brands should think about what differentiates them, not just from their business competitive set but from their content competitive set.
Essentially, just as your products/services have a unique selling proposition (USP) vis-a-vis your competition, so should your content. In other words, the kind of content you’re producing, and how you go about producing (and syndicating) it should reflect your brand and its USP.
And we’re already seeing this with particularly brand conscious organizations. Take Luxury Retreats, for example, a brand that distinguishes itself from the competition through the quality of its service and prestige of its product offering. When they launched their luxury travel magazine, it was probably because they knew that their old company blog was no longer equipped to meet the realities of modern content marketing. They needed something that was more focused on appealing to the interests and needs of luxury travelers specifically, rather than a platform that simply featured general travel advice/insight, company news, and seasonal promotions. By tailoring their content, in other words, to reflect both their brand and their customer’s unique interests, they’re able to connect with their audience better than ever.
Part of any brand is brand consistency, and if you’re going to be conscious about your content’s own brand and USP, then you have to be ready to commit to delivering that distinct value proposition on a consistent basis. This means developing a kind of editorial calendar and sticking with it so that your audience knows not only what they’re getting from your content, but when they can expect it.
This is why it’s crucial to have an always on mindset vs an episodic one. You can’t produce branded content sporadically or whenever you want; give customers a constant stream of engaging material to check out. This being said, don’t overkill it because otherwise your brand will be just another content spammer that the internet hates. There’s a fine line between being the cool brand whose content is the stuff of water-cooler banter and being the lame eye-roll inducing label of the internet.
Don’t post because you have to, post content because you have something your audience is going to engage positively with. Going back to Luxury Retreat Magazine, they for instance publish once a day, seven days a week, which is enough for them to be consistent in their commitment, but not so much that they’re spamming readers (and customers) with content just for the sake of it.
Branded content is about community. You tell the story about your brand, the feelings and experiences that go with it, and you attract a target audience of like-minded people who share the same values and interests. But establishing who your brand is isn’t enough to sustain your community; you need to craft, foster, and maintain a content footprint that not only lasts with your audience, but also makes them want to come back to you time and time again.
Whether or not you agree with them, there are two cliches that digital marketers don’t seem tired of repeating: “SEO is Dead” and “Content is King”. I’m actually a little embarrassed to even mention them, but they’re gonna provide a nice little segue into the main narrative of this post — which is about how you can create better, more relevant content by mining search data to produce the kind of content that your actual potential paying customers might actually engage with.
Before we can get into that, however, I should probably elaborate a bit on why you should still care about SEO, especially when you’re trying to create content for human beings instead of search engines.
Most of the broohaha around SEO being dead is based on an misunderstanding of what it actually is. If you consider this infographic from SEO Book, what you start to realize is that SEO isn’t dying, it’s just evolving.
Like most things (and industries and technologies) in this world, SEO is in a constant state of flux, and what used to be true about it, may or may not be anymore.
Take your car, for instance. Once upon a time it would’ve run on leaded fuel and had a carburetor instead of fuel injection, but that doesn’t mean that automotive engineering ever died. Rather, the technology changed and evolved, becoming much more advanced and complex, and what once passed for auto engineering best practices would now be considered crude and archaic.
It’s the same thing with SEO: it’s not nearly or simple or straightforward as it used to be, and now requires a degree of tact that makes it much closer to a science than a parlor trick.
Like any organism or technology that evolves,the way in which SEO is evolving is in response to a change in its ecosystem, and the changes in that ecosystem are being driven by how search algorithms have evolved to reflect how their own ecosystem (the web) has become a much more complex beast.
Essentially, the last 14 years of Google’s algorithm updates have brought the Google algorithm closer and closer to an AI algorithm, and that algorithm isn’t so easily fooled by some backlinks and keyword stuffing. Rather, they look for queues that reflect how users (i.e. human beings) now use the web, and rank content based on what those users’ needs actually are.
This is why SEO is now about optimizing content for discovery and conversions. Whereas it used to be about showing search engines that you had relevant content (onsite keyword density) that other webmasters trusted (through backlinks), now its about demonstrating that you’re relevant to actual users on an ongoing basis by getting users to engage with your brand and your content.
Of course, this makes it necessary to product content that doesn’t suck (i.e. optimizing content) and then get it in front of users (i.e. discovery) so that they can interact with it (i.e. convert) in a meaningful way. Most digital marketers seem to intuitively understand and agree with this approach, but then kind fumble when it comes to executing.
So the question becomes: How do you figure out what kind of content your users are actually interested in and likely to engage with instead of being just another content marketer that the internet hates?
If you’ve ever taken a serious shot at SEO, then you’ve done keyword research and determined what search terms users are actually using to search for your products/services. If you haven’t done this, you’ve never taken SEO seriously because you’ve never made an attempt to understand how how your potential customers use search engines. Once you’ve done your keywords research, though, you’re in a position to sync your SEO and content strategies by building a keyword narrative.
A keyword narrative is not about producing content that targets specific keywords and/or is stuffed with them. Rather, it’s about using keyword data to understand what kinds of content your targeted users are likely to engage with.
Basically, keyword research is an important first step for optimizing your products/services pages. However, it’s not always so useful for creating compelling content because no one really wants to read, engage with, or share content that was built around keyword stuffed themes.
The search volume data around those keyword groups, however, is very useful if you compare it against your user/customer profiles. Essentially, what you have to do is:
So while the keyword research goes toward optimizing product/service pages, keyword narrative goes toward ranking engaging content in front of actual potential customers.
The whole idea, here, is to get the the right proportion of content out and in front the right audiences. After all, it’s great if you’re producing viral content, but if that content doesn’t appeal to your customers, then it’s not going to help you rank on their searches.
Of course, your content still has to walk a line between being relevant to your industry/business and being engaging, and that’s where you’ll have to put on your creative thinking cap (or hire someone with one), but no one ever said good content came easy. Just like SEO has its inconvenient truths, so does content marketing.
In this way, content marketing is a lot like tattoos: good work isn’t cheap, and cheap work isn’t good.
The point is don’t declare a channel dead just because you haven’t properly invested in it in a way to yield results. SEO has never been a quick, cheap fix, and now that it requires that you develop solid content that your actual customers are going to engage with, the buy-in has gotten a bit higher. But if you want to benefit from the equity and retention that SEO and content together can offer, you have to be willing not only to adequately invest in them, but that investment time to mature.
Competing in the digital landscape usually means competing on several fronts. You need good design (product or web), solid tech (frontend and backend), strong marketing (acquisition and retention), and the talent to help make it all come together. Indeed, even on the marketing front, you need to find the right balance of SEO, PPC, affiliate marketing, and content, to name just a few.
As the old saying goes, however, Jack of all trades, master of none. No one company can (solely) excel at everything it does, but that’s also why companies tend to outsource at leastsome of what they do. Of course, knowing exactly what you should outsource and when you should do so is another thing altogether.
Do you delegate it to a team member even though they don’t specialize in it? Or do you hire additional staff to take care of it? Or do you pay a bit more to an agency or consultant because there’s not enough work to justify a full-time hire?
These are all questions worth asking when deciding whether or not to outsource, and like all business decisions, it’s one that should be based on a cost-benefit analysis. Not all costs are easily quantified and entered into a ledger, however, and a proper cost-benefit analysis requires that you factor in some less tangible costs. And when trying to identify and assess some of these hidden, intangible costs of outsourcing, there are a few questions you should be asking yourself.
The first question you should ask is “What would be the opportunity cost?”. In other words, “What’s gonna suffer if you try to take this on internally?”.
At any given point, you only have so many resources. More often than not, those resources already have goals, mandates, and timelines. And if you take on anything else internally, some of those resources will need to be diverted. So you need to decide whether the relevant resources can justifiably be diverted from whatever else they’re doing.
If it’s just a question of postponing the company newsletter to get up a banner ad that’s actually going to drive sales, then diverting those resources probably makes sense. However, if it’s a question of completely suspending all your ad campaigns while you find a replacement for that media buyer who just quit with no notice, then you’ll want to carefully consider whether saving on agency/consultant fees are really worth the foregone revenues.
The next question you’ll want to ask yourself is whether the project or deliverable you’re thinking of outsourcing is part of your core business or not. Even if you’re looking at something that your business regularly needs, it might not be worth managing in-house if it’s not part of your core business. After all, by trying to develop the necessary resources in-house, you can end up getting completely distracted from your actual business, and end up hurting your bottom line in the long-run a lot more than you think.
For example, many companies require physical office space, and every office needs to be cleaned, right? Well, our office had a rotating cleaning schedule. That is, until we realized that the revenue or growth a team member could generate in the time it took them to tidy up the office far outweighed the cost of hiring something else to do it. So we ended up hiring one of my clients, Montreal Office Maintenance, not only because it made good financial sense, but because we’re in the marketing business, not the property management one.
The third question you need to consider has to do with how urgent something is. Especially if something is part of your core business, but arises suddenly, you might want to consider outsourcing it.
I mean, sure, maybe you (or one of your team members) should’ve anticipated the need, or maybe something that no one could’ve predicted popped up. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that it requires immediate attention (and execution), and diverting internal resources to deal with it will only completely disrupt some other part of your business.
As an agency man, I regularly get requests from clients to handle something that’s not part of our normal mandate with them. Simply put, the client ended up with overflow. It may be something we can handle, or we may refer them to someone else, but the point is that it’s something the client knows it can’t stall on and is better off paying a bit more to outsource it than to wait to get it done itself.
On paper, the idea of vertical integration sounds all fine and dandy, but like most things theoretical, it doesn’t always work in practice. Of course, there are cost efficiencies associated with taking things in-house, but there are still a slew of intangible, hard-to-quantify costs associated with them, too.
Just like you’re more likely to rent office space than try to build your own, you’ll want to rely on third-party service providers to support other aspects of your business. So don’t be pig-headed next time outsourcing is an option, and look beyond just the trees to see the big picture. Because even when costs aren’t tangible, the revenue/growth you can generate by being mindful of them are.
If you’ve ever been in a position where you’ve had to choose between hiring an employee or hiring an agency, to do something in-house or to outsource it to a third-party, then you should probably read this blog post.
Why? Well, partially because I want your eye-balls and attention (and your validation via comments and Likes, and the like). But mostly because when it comes to choosing whether to outsource a project or deliverable, or not, it’s a question of costs, and I’m about to tell you how to do a cost-benefit analysis that takes into account more than just the line-items in your budget or expenses.
Basically, the costs of doing business transcend the checks you write. Depending on the project, deliverable, or resource you’re looking considering, there are often other, hidden costs, and you have to take these into account if you want to make the right choice for your business. And there are couple questions you should be asking if you want to uncover some of those hidden costs.
The first question you need to be asking yourself is whether the project/deliverable/resource you’re considering is part of your core business. If it’s not, trying to develop the necessary resources in-house can be a complete distraction and diversion of resources from your actual business, and end up hurting your growth and/or your bottom line a lot more than you think.
For instance, most businesses require office or retail space, but that doesn’t mean they build it themselves. Rather, they rent real estate from a real estate company because they don’t have the expertise to build or manage brick and mortar space.
The same reasoning can be applied to any other project/deliverable you’re considering. If you’re a small ecommerce store with only a few dozen SKUs, for example, then you’re probably more of an online retail company than a technology one, so it probably makes a lot more sense to outsource a lot of your web development needs and IT infrastructure than to build up internally.
Amazon, on the other hand, has a couple hundred million SKUs, and deals with such a staggering volume of traffic that it is a technology company, because any amount of downtime can mean millions of dollars in lost revenue. For that reason, it does make sense for them to maintain the infrastructure and engineering support staff that it does.
Where the line between something that is part of your core business and something that isn’t can be murky, and that’s up to you to decide. But it’s certainly something you should be considering before deciding whether to actually invest in developing the resources in-house, because doing so can end up changing your core business model in (undesirable) ways you did not anticipate.
Another thing you need to consider is what you will not be able to get done while you’re working on a project in-house. In other words, what would be the opportunity costs?
For instance, even if something is routine, it often doesn’t make sense to divert resources to getting something done when you can simply outsource it to someone who specializes in it. For example, at the Brendan & Brendan office where I rent desk space, we used to have a rotating cleaning schedule where two team members would take a couple hours every Friday to tidy up the office. Not only was this a bit of inconvenience for whoever was scheduled on any given week, but the combined 3-4 hours those team members were spending on cleaning would’ve been better spent on getting things done. What we ended up doing was hiring one of my clients, Montreal Office Maintenance, to come in once a week to handle the cleaning, because even though this was an extra expense for the business, the revenue that could be generated in those extra 3-4 hours of productivity every week more than offset the cost of using a janitorial service provider.
Similarly, if a very urgent project or deliverable comes up, it could really disrupt your business or productivity to pause other operations to divert resources to doing it in-house. If that’s the case, you might want to consider using your agency or a freelancer to handle that overflow while you focus on keeping the other parts of your business running at full capacity.
Whenever you’re making a business decision, it’s important to remember that counting beans is not the same as looking at the bottom line. If you’re really going to be strategic or proactive (or whatever) with how you choose to spend money, you have to look beyond the decimal points, because sometimes what looks like a cost-saving on paper manifest as a lost revenue down the road.
So the next time you’re trying to decide whether to use your agency (or hire one) for a project, don’t forget to consider those other (sometimes hidden) costs that your accounting department doesn’t see because they’re not yet on paper. Your job, after all, is to grow your business, and that means (1) focusing on what it actually does, and (2) anticipating the opportunities and pitfalls that haven’t yet been committed to the books.
We’re all probably tired of hearing the phrase “Content is King,” and we’re tired of it because it’s become such a cliche. But the thing about cliches is that they’re cliches for a reason; that is, they’re generalizations or stereotypes that are accurate more often than they’re not.
Well as far as the content-being-king cliches goes, you can’t achieve much as an online marketer without it. PPC ads need copy and landing pages, SEO requires authoritative content, and Social efforts tend to hinge on engaging content such as memes, blog posts, and status updates. And something that you have to consider when deploying content across multiple channels is to (1) make sure it’s designed for that specific audience without (2) compromising your messaging or brand consistency.
One case in point is developing SEO content that doesn’t read like SEO content. Basically, if you create content just for the sake of targeting keywords, it ends up reading like vapid keyword spam that no one reads or engages with. And if no one engages with it (via Shares, Likes, and +1s), the content itself offers no real SEO value in the end.
But your data analysis shouldn’t stop there, especially since you haven’t really collected an real data yet. It’s only once you start developing content that attracts visitors via Organic Search (or Social, or Paid Search) that you can really step up your content and SEO efforts, because it’s only then that you can actually examine how they interacted with the content (and your site), and what the ROI of that content was.
At this point, you want to consider collecting some kind of customer analytics that are actionable. In other words, you want to start drawing correlations between how certain kinds of content attracted certain kinds of users, and what the value of those users were to your business.
From there, you can actually challenge many of the assumptions you started out with about the different personas that make up your target market, and determine how content (and SEO) efforts should be modified to have maximum impact. For example, you might discover that content you developed for persona-X is boosting your rankings for keywords that are attracting persona-Y, or even some unforeseen persona, and by increasing your production of such content, you can actually appeal to two or three personas all at once.
The point is that your SEO tracking needs to go above and beyond traffic source, avg. time on site, and conversion rate. You need to make an effort to understand (1) what kind of
users people are coming through on Organic Search and to what content, (2) what the value of those visitors are, and (3) how your content strategy and keyword narrative can be refined to maximize ROI.
Full Disclosure: I’m a professional SEO who has a heavily vested interest in companies investing in, well, SEO so that I can carve out my own little slice of the American Dream.
Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let me get to the point as quickly as possible: SEO represents the most targeted source of traffic online.
Why? Well, because search engines send you users who are (1) already interested in your products or services, and (2) they’re already looking to buy. In other words, they are already one step down the conversion funnel. You don’t have to convince them to buy. You just have to convince them to buy from you, and if you’ve done your job, they’re already on your website.
Social traffic is great for brand visibility, but not so much for driving sales. I mean, sure, you can target people by interests and social graph and all other kinds of creepy data sets. But when people log on to Facebook or Twitter, they’re there to hangout and talk sh*t. They’re not there go shopping.
Even if you use a killer piece of content to drive them back to your site, there’s no guarantee that they’re in the mood to make a purchasing decision, or even in the market for whatever it is you’re trying to sell them. In fact, they’re probably not even going to look at your products or service pages. They’re just gonna consume your content, share it (which is great), and then move on.
With search engines, though, you can get in front of users who are actively shopping around, and when you do, its your products or service pages that they’re looking at.
Of course, there are some inconvenient truths about SEO, like how it’s not a quick fix. In fact, it’s something you have to actually invest in over time. You’re going to need to do things like create killer content and build an ongoing keyword narrative.
But the investment is going to be worth it. That is, of course, as long as you’re selling something that actually offers value and you’re not a complete jerk to your customers.
But, seriously, think about it. If you don’t believe me, just dive in to your Google Analytics and compare the average conversion rate of your organic search traffic with your other traffic sources. The numbers don’t lie…
A couple years ago, Google launched a little-known feature called knowledge graph, and recently rolled out a few changes to it (again, on the down-low). While most of us never heard anything about it, but we have all certainly seen the impact in our search results.
Just take these search results for “jfk”. In it, we not only see search engine result page (SERP) for “jfk”, but an excerpt pulled from Wikipedia, some additional biographical facts (also pulled from Wikipedia), some additional searches (in this case, other political figures) that other users also search for, and some recommended alternate search (such as for the airport and the film).
Another area where you’ve probably seen Google’s Knowledge Graph in action is with Answer Boxes, such as this one for “when is miley cyrus birthday”. Here, we not only get the answer to our question as the first result, but a bunch of “related people” birthday results, as well as some biographical info about Miley as pulled from Wikipedia.
So you’re probably wondering what JFK and Miley Cyrus have to do with marketing your website, right? I mean, isn’t that why you’re reading this? ‘Cause you want to market your site and it’s products/services?
Well, I can think of at least 3 good reasons why you should care about Google’s Knowledge Graph:
Now that I’m making a bit more sense, you’re probably wondering what you can do to reap some of the benefits of this whole Knowledge Graph thing. Well, as with all things SEO there’s (probably) no end to the things you can do to continually squeeze the most out of it. But there are 3 places you should be starting, so I guess I should give you a heads-up on each of them.
So you might’ve noticed that Wikipedia is kinda a big thing with the Knowledge Graph. From providing excerpts that Google pulls to helping to fueling the related searches under “See related searches”, having a Wikipedia entry really enhances your brand’s ability to become a bigger part of the Knowledge Graph.
Of course, it’s not like you just go sign up for a Wikipedia account today and just throw up an entry about itself. Rather, Wikipedia has rules about that kind of thing, and if you get caught spamming, that entry (and the user profile that submitted it) are gonna get pulled.
The best course of action, then, is know-a-guy-who-knows-a-guy. Basically, you wanna find a Wikipedia editor who’s edits/entries relate to you entry, and that’s probably going to require a PR approach. After all, Wikipedia editors have worked hard to attain their status, and they’re not gonna put it on the line just to spam the community with a copy/paste of your boilerplate.
Now, you might be thinking “Really? Google+? Who really uses that other than Google employees who eat doughnuts?” But aside from the social network actually showing some signs (albeit slow ones) of users actually starting to use it, Google is kinda forcing it down our throats by incentivizing marketers to use it.
For starters, when content gets +1’d, it carries a bit (or a lot) more weight than it should in terms of impacting the SERP performance of that content. More importantly, having a pimped out Google+ profile offers marketers a chance to both show up in Knowledge Graph SERPs, as well as include their Follower count on PPC ads.
The point is that you’re gonna have claim/set-up your brand’s Google+ profile (if you haven’t already), and then optimize it. You can get a whole bunch of granular, useful tips on how to optimize your business’s Google+ profile from the gShift guide, but suffice it to say that it’s going to require things like:
I know, another social media profile to manage and maintain, right? But it’s really not that hard, and your social media intern or community manager probably isn’t busy enough, anyway, so you mind as well get a little bit more for the salary you’re paying them.
If you wanna reap the SEO benefits of the Knowledge Graph, you’re gonna have to turn an eye to your actual site, too. Basically, you’re gonna have to make sure that all the content on your site has been sorted, categorized, and tagged in a way that Google know where into the Knowledge Graph it fits. And you do that by structuring your data.
You’ve most certainly seen search results affected by structured data. Such results are commonly referred to as having rich snippets, and rich snippets are pretty much anything that features extra data on the search result’s landing page. The example for “lasagna recipe” above, for instance, includes users ratings for that recipe, the number of reviews it’s received, the cooking/prep time, and even the how many calories per serving this recipe has.
Rich Snippets are available for just about any kind of content you can think of, from product pages and videos results to movie and real estate listings. Regardless of what product or service your brand offers, you can probably find a mark-up scheme on Schema.org. The site provides guidelines on how to integrate structured data mark-up on just about every kind of content, and while properly implementing it can be a headache for your web integrator, that’s their problem, not yours 😉
Google’s Knowledge Graph is pretty much about helping users find all kinds of content that’s (possibly) related to their searches. To do that, Google has figure out what’s related to what, and as much data as the search giant has, that’s a pretty big effing job with a lot of room for errors.
So if you’re interested in leveraging the Knowledge Graph and pimping your brand’s SERP performance, don’t wait for Google to figure out (and maybe misunderstand) what kind of content you have. Instead, get off you ass, and take matters into your own hand.
So if you’re being honest with yourself about SEO, then you know that you have to do the whole content marketing thing. But how do you tackle it in a way that supports your SEO strategy without compromising the integrity of your content — e.g. without making your content suck ballz?
Well, the obvious answer is to hire me and pay me loads of money to either take care of it for you, or at least show you how to do it. But since you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably more of a DIYer, in which case I’m never going to make any money off of you, so I guess I’ll just have to settle for your eyeballs (and, hopefully Retweets and Likes) for now, and give you a couple of hints.
Normally, when you set out down the SEO-road, you start with some keyword research. This means figuring out how users (e.g. other human beings) are trying to find your products or services, or those of your competitors, or possibly some reasonable substitute.
Once you’ve done that, you end up a with a whole bunch of targeted, high volume, and maybe even highly competitive keywords that you want to try to rank on. Of course, if you start just developing content just of the sake of including those keywords, you’re going to end up with some kind of diarrhetic prose that reads more like a Nigerian spam email than anything anyone would read — never mind share.
The way you get around this is by building a keyword narrative. And you do that by:
Now that you’ve figured out how much of your content needs to appeal to different kinds of users, you not only gotta come up with content ideas that will actually appeal to those users, but it has to be relevant to your products and services. For example, if new mothers are one of your personas, an infographic about the value of breast feeding isn’t going to do you any good if you’re trying to sell them baby formula.
So now that you have some not-so-crappy ideas about what kind of content you need to create to appeal to each kind of user-persona, you need to find a non-douchey way of linking that content back to the pages that feature whatever it is you’re trying to sell to them. You want to do this because (1) interlinking to product pages is kinda important for SEO, (2) Google uses the content we consume and interact with to personalize our search results, so (3) a link from content we like is going to have more impact on a page’s ranking (on a personalized search) than a link from a piece of content we ignored.
So, you see, the goal isn’t to get the user to click on the link, but to get them to interact with the content so that that link more heavily influences our search results.
Of course, you gotta find a way to do this without it making the content suck, but you’re a smart DIYer, aren’t you? I mean, you’ll find a way, like slipping it into an author bio or by throwing in a cheeky comments in brackets or at the bottom of your posts that reads something like “[Just because you like this post, there’s no real reason why you’d like or hate our website’s homepage.]”
So, maybe you’ve seen Field of Dreams, but even if you haven’t, you’re totally gonna be able to appreciate where I’m going with the title of this section (and be ever so slightly surprised that I’m leaving a pun like that in a blog post about SEO and marketing).
But the point is that just ’cause you throw a piece of content up against the wall, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stick. No, just like interacting with content can help influence your personalize search results, so can other people interacting with content. In other words (and I love how redundant this is gonna sound), the content has be popular if you want a lot of people to see it (and then maybe interact with it.
It’s the whole chicken-and-the-egg problem: is content shared a lot because it’s popular, or is it popular because it was shared a lot?
Point being, you’re gonna have to Tweet and Facebook and Stumble and Tumbl that content until the cows come home. And when I say “cows”, I mean big fat cash-cows named Betsy because it’s gonna help drive up your rankings, and organic search traffic is the most targeted source of traffic online because the users are pre-qualified and already looking for your products/services, which means that they’re going to give you all their money and you’re gonna be rich and get to retire at an early age, and spend the rest of your days optioning your memoirs to Hollywood and not caring because you’re already rich.
So you think you know something about SEO? Let me guess: you read a few blog posts, and maybe even The Beginner’s Guide to SEO? Well, if Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed (and he probably should be because he’s wicked smart), you probably don’t know sh*t about SEO because it takes about 10,000 hours to master anything.
I myself, on the other hand, have been working at the SEO game for almost 9 years, which puts me at almost a twice-over expert. I’ve been watching the Google algorithm evolve for almost a decade, and have had to adapt my strategies and tactics every step along the way. So let me share a few pointers with you so that you’re in a better position to make a sound decision next time you have to decide whether to invest in SEO or evaluate whether the SEO you’re thinking of hiring is full of sh*t or not.
Before I get to the inconvenient truths about SEO, let me remind you why you those inconveniences are worth it: SEO offers the most targeted source of traffic online. Why? Because, well, search users are (1) already looking for your products/services, and (2) really feel that the organic search results represent the best possible options available to them (if only because they don’t realize that there are SEOs like me out there manipulating those results).
Take social users, for instance. You might be able to target them by interest or social graph, but you can’t target them by intent. In other words, you can’t control for what mindset they happen to be in. Users use Facebook or Twitter to socialize or share, and when you’re hanging out and having fun, you’re not necessarily in the mood to buy anything.
With search, however, users are actively looking for products/services similar to yours. And that means that they’re already one step down the conversion funnel.
The first inconvenient truth about SEO is that it’s not a short-term strategy. Depending on your industry and target market, it’s much more of a medium- to long-term one.
Simply put, it takes time to obtain (i.e. “earn”) organic rankings. It’s just not possible to own any Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) rankings overnight. Rather, if you’re truly committed to SEO (and reaching those targeted users), you’re probably not going to start seeing an uptick for 3-6 months, and it might be 12 months before you get that return on your investment. You will, however, see that return. After all, these are the most targeted and (pre-)qualified online, and they are already one step down the conversion funnel.
Once you’ve obtained some decent rankings (and I’m talking Top 5 rankings, here, because the vast majority of users don’t click on anything after position #5), your cost-per-click (or cost-per-acquisition) actually diminishes with every click. In other words, SEO offers you economies of scale.
You see, with PPC or social media ads, there’s a fixed cost associated with every acquisition — i.e. you pay about the same for every click. With SEO, however, every referral you get from the search engine results pages (SERPs) costs you less and less with every click.
The problem with obtaining these economies of scale (or any, for that matter), however, is that you have to invest up to a certain point before you can reach them. So not only does it take time (see point #1 above), it also takes resources.
In addition to offering economies of scale, SEO also offers economies of scope. Basically, once you obtain ranking on one keyword, it becomes a lot easier to rank on other keywords.
The reason is that every trusted or authority page on your site contributes to the over trust and authority of the entire site. So when you create a new page, that new page gets to sorta piggyback off of the credibility of the other pages that are already ranking.
This doesn’t, of course, mean that new pages (or products, or services) will automatically rank alongside (or even nearly as well as) those that you’ve already invested in SEO for. But it does mean that you (probably) won’t have to invest (proportionally) as much in those new rankings as you did in the ones you’ve already earned.
The inconvenience of these economies of scope, however, is that you’ll have to be investing in new products/services (and their respective pages) before you can realize those efficiencies.
Just like SEO is a medium- to long-term strategy, and just like it offers economies of scale and economies of scope, it’s also something that offers equity. Basically, the rankings you have are a kind of earned real estate, and like all real estate, it needs to be tended to if it’s going to maintain its value.
In other words, you have protect your investment. So while it’ll cost you so much to rank on certain range of terms, you can’t just set it and forget it. Once you own (or achieve) certain rankings, you’ll have to invest in maintaining those rankings. This means allotting a certain amount of budget in defending or protecting your investment.
Just like a reigning champ, you can’t just rest on your laurels. You either have to go into retirement or be that defending champ that keeps getting in the ring — staying sharp and nimble, and continuously winning/earning your top rankings.
You know that whole thing about content being king? Well, part of the reason is that you’re probably not gonna be able to rank well without some good content behind you.
And I’m talking more about that viral mill kinda content that’s just overhyped linkbait. I mean, sure, producing that kind of content won’t hurt your rankings — and the tons of backlinks and social signals it generates will certainly help your site’s overall trust and authority with search engines. But it’s not gonna help you rank on targeted terms.
Rather, what you’re gonna need is the kind of content that your target market is actually gonna be interested in. This means that it has to be related to your products/services (think how-to’s, support forums, and lifehacks) so that it actually is relevant to the terms that your target market is searching for (and that you’re trying to rank on). And since what counts as killer content for one brand isn’t the same for one brand as it is for another, this also might mean getting customer feedback on what it is users like about different content and why, and then using that insight to refine and focus your content efforts on an ongoing basis.
Last but not least, SEO is both a science and an art, and that means that there’s a technical side to it. Simply put, all the great marketing and content in the world isn’t going to help you outrank the competition if your site isn’t up to par. In other words, it doesn’t matter who the driver is if the engine is sh*t.
This often means developing and maintaining a site that’s (1) fully indexable, and (2) doesn’t create duplicate content issues. So while it’s tempting (and fallacious) to think dev resources are better allocated elsewhere, you have to make sure that both your front- and back-end are meeting SEO best practices, and that those best practices are applied to every future site build.