If you think search engine optimization is just keyword repetition and directory submissions to fatten up your link profile, you’re living in 2006. Modern SEO is central to content marketing, from the early planning stages to measuring success and acting on the data.
Plan the Content Marketing Strategy
Before a single line is written or frame of video is shot, every content marketing program needs a strategy. SEO data is a critical contributor to the process both because it tends to illuminate what customers want and because planning for SEO in at the start increases the odds of winning those free organic search eyeballs at the end.
Keyword research is an important – and free – piece of insight in the strategic process because it identifies exactly what real customers need, want and worry about. And 90 percent of the time the language those searching customers use will not mirror your marketing speak.
For example, keyword research shows that searchers query Google 170 times a month on average in the U.S. for “silky legs.” But Google also sees 2,400 searches for “how to prevent razor bumps” in an average month.
If I manage a health and beauty ecommerce site selling women’s razors, however, I’m probably just using manufacturer marketing speak around “silky legs.” Beyond the SEO implications for driving organic search visits and sales, speaking to “silky legs” in my content when the data shows that customers are really concerned about “how to prevent razor bumps” means that I’m missing an opportunity to demonstrate how my product meets her needs.
Further, failing to consult keyword research would blind me to the potential value in providing educational content. Potential customers are searching Google 1,600 times in an average month for “how to shave your legs” and 2,400 times for “how to shave bikini area.” Helping these women fulfill their need, using their own language, represents a chance to earn their trust and their dollars.
Every data source requires critical thinking. It’s important to keep in mind that keyword research only shows “what” people search for, not who they are. We can’t know for certain that these shaving-related searches are performed by women, but the odds are that the majority of these leg- and bikini-shaving searches are done by women based on societal norms in the U.S.
Beyond keyword research, SEO can influence the strategic planning process in other ways. Monitor phrases that drive traffic to your site — using Webmaster Tools, AdWords, and analytics. (See “Understanding Google’s ‘Keyword Not Provided’ Data,” my article last week.) Depending on whether the goal is increased brand recognition, increased traffic for poor-performing products, increased traffic for top-performing products, or increased conversion rates, your organic search analytics data will identify how customers are already thinking of your content and finding your content.
The difference between how marketers planned to communicate with searchers and how they actually are frequently surprises them. Understanding this dichotomy in the strategic planning phase of the content marketing process will help you better plan for content to target your customers’ wants and needs.
Produce the Content
Most marketers suddenly realize that SEO should be involved somewhere in the content creation process. However, if SEO hasn’t been baked in from the beginning of the content marketing program, applying some keywords just before the content launches will almost certainly fail to drive organic search visits and sales.
SEO impacts a wide variety of content decisions from platforms and URLs to site features and information architecture to how content is developed. Oh, yes, and the words used on the page. Some of the most important decisions for SEO success, however, happen before copy writers are even getting started.
For example, let’s say I manage a site that sells cooking products. Looking at the keyword research immediately sparked the idea to attract customers with recipes and then convert them to purchase. In fact, slow cookers seem to be a particularly ripe area for this strategy with hundreds of thousands of searches a month for slow cooker recipes.
If one of my primary goals of the content marketing program is organic search visits and conversions on my ecommerce site, there are far more ways to go wrong for SEO at this stage than to go right, including:
- Syndicating recipe content from major recipe sites;
- Hosting the recipes as a microsite on a cool new keyword domain;
- Posting the recipes solely on Pinterest;
All of these scenarios could be fantastic ways to meet the goals outlined in the content marketing strategy, but they will severely damage the program’s ability to attract customers via organic search. And all of these scenarios would be decided before marketers typically think to consider SEO, long before the writers get started creating copy.
Promote the Content
Too often marketers stop here. The content is finished, it’s amazing, and it’s live! But where are the visitors? Without promotion, the content you’ve worked so hard to target and create may not drive any additional visits or sales.
Promotion is even necessary to prime the organic search pump. Think about it this way: New content hasn’t had the time or the viewers needed to establish authority of its own. So until it can acquire authority as other sites mention it and link to it and people share it with their social networks, your amazing new content is not “amazing” to the search engines.
Promotion, then, is critical to get the ball rolling to drive organic search. Traditional promotional channels like press relations, email marketing, social media, PPC and offline advertising all benefit help to get the messaging in front of more eyeballs to start that initial flow of mentions, links and shares. Once that happens organic search itself becomes a promotional vehicle, exposing more and more searchers to your content.
Organic search can also suggest sites to reach out to for promotion. The simplest way to research promotional opportunities is to search for the phrase you’d like to rank for. Of the sites that rank well for that phrase, which of them could be approached as promotional opportunities. This could be as simple as asking your PR agency to add them to their contact list, or as complex as proposing a sponsorship or partnership depending on the site and its audience’s value to your business.
From an SEO standpoint, acquiring mentions, links and shares from these sites that rank well for your desired search phrases will increase your content’s authority. In addition, assuming there is audience overlap, your site could benefit from direct traffic as well.
Perform and Perfect
Closing the loop on the content marketing process, we need to measure the effectiveness of the content and optimize it to produce greater returns. This performance feedback should also feed into the next round of content marketing strategy.
SEO works beautifully within this framework because it is at its core about measurement and optimization of organic search performance.
To ensure success at this stage, set measurable goals in the strategy planning stage. If the goal was to “increase organic search visits and conversions by 15 percent in the slow cooker section of the site,” it’s very easy to determine if that goal was met. Based on the relative success in meeting the goal you can identify next steps, optimizations to try to improve performance. If the goal was to “get better at SEO,” well, that’s not a quantifiable goal. What next steps would a subjective evaluation of this goal even suggest?
Try to think about the optimization stage as experimentation, as SEO professionals do. Think beyond the words used on the pages of content, though words are a good place to start. If something isn’t driving the performance anticipated, what could be changed to improve it?
Could the problem be lack of promotion? Could it be a technical decision made in the content creation stage? Could it be a targeting issue based on misunderstanding or miscommunicating customer needs? Or could it simply be a matter of applying the keyword research to the page’s title tag and copy in a more targeted manner to increase organic search visibility? Experiment with the likely causes of lower performance and measure the results to improve performance.