Remember back when SEO was all about keywords and inbound links?
While those are still important to online search, there was a time when they were all that mattered—when you could stuff your content with keywords and reap the benefits of high rankings as a result. So if you wanted to rank for "gold jewelry," for instance, all you had to do was sprinkle the words "gold jewelry" throughout your content, and you were—if you'll pardon the pun—golden, popping up at the top of the search results every time.
But we live in a different world of online search now. You can't pull the wool over Google's eyes as easily as you used to, and the search results we're provided with are much better than they used to be.
So what do these changes mean for businesses looking to gain visibility on search result pages? Business owners now have to work a lot harder to rank for competitive, relevant keywords. And technical SEO tweaks can only get you so far.
Raising Your Ranking
Enter content marketing.
Yes, despite the years that have passed since SEO became a buzzword, content continues to be king. Longform articles, blog posts, social media updates, infographics ... basically anything else you create that can be published and adds value for readers will help you land higher in search results. With a strategic content marketing campaign, you can build your brand's credibility, authority, loyalty and trust.
But what makes good content, and where do content marketing and SEO meet? The truth is, these two disciplines are becoming more and more intertwined, but a solid understanding of both is necessary to maximize their results. Let’s explore how to unify SEO and content marketing to maximize your search results.
1. Start by optimizing technical SEO elements. Believe it or not, there isn't some secret weapon to winning the SEO game. It just takes a lot of diligence and expertise. But you need to be familiar with Google's best practices for search engine optimization. A few things you'll need to think about include:
- How your site is structured
- How your URLs are structured
- Whether you've created a sitemap
- What meta tags you should use
- How to best optimize images
- What constitutes the best anchor text
Optimizing all these elements will not only help you maximize organic search traffic, but it will also prevent you from getting stung by Google’s "Panda" algorithm, as described by John Albin, SEO strategist for digital marketing agency SEMGeeks, in his article “SEO: How to Panda-Proof Your Website.”
Another major part of site optimization is keyword research. Google offers a tool to assist with this: the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. This tool is very useful for the brainstorming stage of SEO, which lays the foundation of any SEO campaign. This should be done before you launch a content marketing campaign, because it sets the stage for the technical aspects of SEO, ensuring that your website has maximum SEO potential.
To start, you simply search for a word or phrase you think your target audience would search for in Google. The Planner then provides a list of related terms and their average monthly searches, giving you a sense of the amount of competition you're up against.
This step requires both time and expertise, and you might need to revisit this activity again as you discover which keywords work and which ones don’t.
2. Develop a content marketing plan. Once you have a fundamental knowledge of SEO and your website is optimized from a technical perspective, it’s time to start creating and publishing the content that's not only going to drive traffic to your site but also build your brand for the long haul. While publishing content that people want to read, share and comment on is easier said than done, you can get a better sense of what kind of content really works by reading "Five Hard Truths About Content Marketing for 2014."
One common challenge when building an effective content marketing campaign is trying to incorporate too much SEO into the content. While a healthy knowledge of basic SEO is helpful for any content marketing campaign, too many business owners tend to go overboard, worrying about keywords, keyword density and other minutiae that don't matter as much as you think. So instead of writing for search engines, my advice is to just write for people.
What I've found helpful is to keep the sales cycle in mind at every step of the content creation process. That way, you'll always create content that relates to at least one of the stages of your sales cycle—from awareness through conversion.
The best content, regardless of industry, possesses a few common attributes. It should be:
- Relevant. It should relate directly to what you offer on your site. The best content is relevant to your target customers' interests and needs.
- Informative. Content should relay some information about a particular subject. Not every piece of content you create needs to be educational, but it should have value to your target audience.
- Entertaining. The very best content presents information in an entertaining way. At the very least, it’s engaging. A fun example is The Oatmeal. The comic behind this site explains complex historical and scientific facts in a highly entertaining way. I mean, who knew the mantis shrimp was so awesome?
- High-quality. Above all else, your content needs to be top quality. With so much content to sift through online now, people can sniff out the subpar stuff. Don't be subpar. Be extraordinary!
Balancing the Two
Now that you have an idea of what you need to do in terms of SEO and content marketing, it's time to put the two together. Yes, you absolutely need both if you want to succeed online. If you’re ready to get started with an SEO and content marketing campaign, here’s how to begin:
- Start with keyword research. This will tell you what people in your niche are interested in. It’ll tell you what they're searching for and, in turn, what they want to know. This can greatly inform your content creation strategy.
- Optimize your site's SEO. Meta tags, navigation structure, URL structure, h1 tags, site speed and the technical elements of SEO should be optimized.
- Create amazing content. More often than not, great content is already optimized for relevant keywords because the content itself is relevant to the industry. When creating content, try to answer the questions people have about your business, products and services, and offer solutions to their problems. If that solution is your product or service, all the better. Be sure you keep Google’s "Webmaster Guidelines" in mind while creating this content. This way, your content won't need to be retrofitted to be optimized but, rather, is born that way.
- Promote the content. After publishing your content, be sure to promote it across your social media channels, to relevant industry influencers and to bloggers who might find it valuable or interesting. Try sending some paid ad traffic to the content via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or StumbleUpon Ads to increase its reach and buzz.
From there, you'll need to test your engagement and results. But the four steps above constitute the basic building blocks of content marketing and SEO.
Unlike in the early days of the Web, there aren't any shortcuts anymore to improving your search results. Now, marketers and business owners have to work harder than ever to get results, but the end result is a better online experience for consumers and businesses alike. And we should all be happy about that outcome.
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