One of the world’s smartest students of search, Adam Torkildson, famously predicted in March 2012 that the SEO industry was dying. Within 2 years, he predicted, Google would succeed at stopping not only black hat SEO practitioners, but anyone else who blogs solely for search rankings. The statement has spurred hundreds, if not thousands, of responses since he was quoted in Forbes back in June. It’s a fact that search engine optimization has become something of a bad word even among some marketers.
To be clear, keyword research and internal linking strategy still matter, but they probably only control about 15% of your website’s overall ranking. The rest is up to inbound links and social media shares. It’s a truth that producing unique content around keywords is no longer enough to get your company the visibility you need on Google. Content marketing is the new buzzword, and doing it right means a lot of research, savvy and getting the context just right. Where are you in the cultural shift from SEO to brand storytelling, anyway? First, let’s get the definitions straight:
- SEO or Search engine optimization is the practice of adjusting your website and content to maximize your ranking for key terms on Google, Bing and other search engines. If my company wanted to rank for “organic carrots in Nashville,” I’d likely write several pieces of content around this term and potentially create a landing page with a free eBook of organic carrot recipes.
- Content Marketing is a way that brands connect with their future clients. While a business blog may play a big role, Tweets, YouTube videos, eBooks, slides and other social media also count big towards effective content marketing.
- Spam As you’ve likely experienced every time you’ve checked your email in the past few weeks, spam is no joke. It’s also made a pretty comfortable home on the internet, too. Using software known as “article spinners,” some profit-minded spammers steal, adjust and republish blog content to increase their own chances of ranking on key terms.
Feeling clear on the definitions, but less clear about the distinction between writing content marketing and writing for search engines? It’s a fine line, and even the most effective brand story teller would be foolish to not take advantage of Alt Text, an internal linking strategy and other savvy SEO tricks that can boost your blog’s rank in Google. I’m of the opinion that the difference is often in the details, the effort and the value to the reader. Go ahead, put your content marketing to the test:
How’s Your Research?
A favorite marketing blog of mine recently shared that Canadian communications consulting firm McLuhan and Davies recently published a study that revealed effective writers typically spend:
- 40% of content creation planning
- 25% of content creation writing
- 35% of content creation revising
My first reaction was “that’s a LOT of research.” In fact, research seems to be a key difference between effective content marketing and just churning out articles for SEO. Less effective writers spend just 20% of their time on research. You don’t need a PhD in marketing from Ivy League school to create content that generates social media shares and inbound links. Writing information that is valuable enough to be discussed and linked to is really more about how much effort you put towards creation, which will likely include keeping up on News, RSS feeds, white papers and other developments in your industry.
The concept of preparation will vary between industries. It’s a fact that the world of inbound marketing strategy and social media marketing is changing much more rapidly than many other areas. If your company doesn’t have brand-new data or tons of news alerts on a daily basis, don’t despair. You can still bump up your preparation time by identifying your buyer personas, determining what content has already been written on your target topic and delivering something that’s genuinely fresh.
How’s Your Context?
Who are you trying to create content for, anyway? It’s not yourself, your CEO or your Sales Team. It’s your current clients, leads and your future business. Even if you’ve dedicated 3 hours to scouring academic studies for the latest research, if most of your customers aren’t academics they probably won’t make it through the first paragraph. Context is just as essential as preparation in determining the value of your content marketing to the people who matter. Here are a few factors that can determine whether you nail the context or it falls flat:
- Format: Do your buyer personas respond best to text, video, infographics or audio?
- Topic: You don’t need to write exclusively about current events, but your content should be relevant in the here and now. Take advantage of keyword research and social media stalking to find out what people are talking about.
- Tone: Writing style is an important aspect of brand messaging. Does factual information fare better or do your buyer personas go wild over humor and memes?
How do you distinguish between content marketing, SEO and spam?
Read more: Optimizing Your Blog Articles for SEO
Great article and very timely given the Panda/Penguin updates of the last few months! Unfortunately, it’s a confusing time for business marketers who may have (as an example) just figured out that links are important only to find out now that they can be penalized for the types of links they get. All these changes will require continued education of the marketplace. SEO firms that act in their clients’ best interest will convince them that search engine performance is not about tricks.
“Search engine performance is not about tricks.”
That’s perfectly true and profound. I think that would be a great starting point for a piece of blog content, actually!
I’ve found that I need to SHOW clients now what it is to get organic traffic through SEO. They come at me first with all of these blackhat practices they read about online and heard from their business colleagues and I need to tell them everything they’ve heard is wrong. ;) Then I start blogging for them, just using keywords as a roadmap instead of the main event, and voila. Trying to teach and not implement doesn’t seem to work, everyone wants instant gratification.
Amanda, thank you for sharing your experience! I couldn’t agree more than keywords shouldn’t be the “main event.”
The search world is something that is always changing. I do not see in anyway that SEO will die. The way that we carry out helping a site rank may change, but it will still important to set your site up the right way to ensure that you are not only ranking well, but providing the best site for your visitors.
I couldn’t agree more that the world of search is constantly evolving. I think that due to the fact that search is becoming increasingly social and Facebook is cracking down on fake accounts it’s going to become near impossible to trick search engines. Thanks for stopping by, Ryan!
SEO will never go away. Having said that, you can write both engaging content that is SEOed and that is also written for your readers – this article is a perfect example of it. Having a background in SEO I can easily spot your links on phrases, keyword and phrase density etc. And then you syndicated with a link back. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Thanks for the kind words. I think you hit it home – being able to utilize search-engine friendly tools like an internal linking strategy won’t go away, though best practices will change. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with adapting your work to current trends to get the most possible visibility.
In my opinion, the era of being able to pull the wool over of Google’s eyes is over, however. Personally, I’m glad that my searches for women’s hand-painted stilettos won’t result in SEO content that reads like “women’s hand-painted stilletos are artisan crafted very stylish addition to wardrobe.”
Thanks for stopping by – I appreciate that my words are reaching smart types, and I appreciate hearing your thoughts.