Content is king. Search engine optimization professionals have been preaching this for years. However, content needs to be created and integrated carefully to actually drive organic search performance.
Stick to Your Sphere of Relevance
Every site has a sphere of relevance. A site sells specific products from specific brands, and those drive the words and concepts for which the site is relevant.
For example, a company that sells fine leather dress shoes for men might decide that it wants to target men who wear sneakers, to convince them to upgrade. That’s a reasonable concept for a content marketing campaign.
A site sells specific products from specific brands, and those drive the words and concepts for which the site is relevant.
But that site would find it extremely difficult to rank for sneaker-related phrases because sneakers are not what it sells. Many sites write articles and sell content very closely related to sneakers, whereas the fine shoe site would be writing an article only tangentially related to sneakers. Posting one article about sneakers on a site that sells fine leather dress shoes won’t drive SEO performance.
Organic search as a marketing channel cannot expand a site’s sphere of relevance. Other marketing channels must take the lead in generating awareness among your customer base, which will slowly change the way that customers search for your site and its products you sell and enlarge the site’s sphere of relevance.
When generating content outside a site’s sphere of relevance, make certain that it has value in another, awareness-building marketing channel. Post the content on the site as well so that it’s ready when the sphere of relevance has grown, but don’t expect it to drive SEO performance until then.
Lose the Marketing, but Don’t Forget to Merchandise
Nobody wants to read an ad in article format. That stopped working long ago. Get rid of the catch phrases, heavy branding, and self-promoting trends that the company wants to push and focus on providing really strong, useful content.
At the same time, the content is hosted on an ecommerce site and it’s reasonable to expect some merchandising. For SEO benefit, the content should contain a couple of subtle links to related products or categories. Create a couple of text links in the text that’s already been written and optimized for SEO.
Get rid of the catch phrases, heavy branding, and self-promoting trends that the company wants to push and focus on providing really strong, useful content.
Consider including a product-oriented call out box similar to the “related products” modules often seen on product pages. If the content is free of marketing push, a few nice visuals and links to related products will be much better received, and will give visitors a clear path to move deeper into the site rather than bouncing back out.
Write for Your Audience
Closely related to the above, writing for your audience means forgetting that marketing is the reason for the article and focusing on providing unique, valuable content. Yes, follow brand guidelines about things the company is and isn’t willing to discuss. Yes, stay within legal and regulatory requirements.
But try to pretend for an hour that how the customer thinks and speaks is the voice to aim for, and that what the customer wants is the only thing that matters. Guidelines and SEO can be applied after the fact, but the creative application of that customer voice is an art that can’t be layered on at the end.
… writing for your audience means forgetting that marketing is the reason for the article and focusing on providing unique, valuable content.
What does this have to do with SEO? Google in particular is hard at work developing algorithms that measure content quality. Part of that is relevance, part is mentions and links from on other sites, and part is the uniqueness of the content as compared with all the other similar content available online.
But another part is searchers’ reaction to the content when they click to it from search results. Do they immediately bounce out again and choose another page from the search results instead? If so, the quality is likely to be low and the content would likely be demoted over time in search results.
Writing for the audience, coupled with lack of marketing fluff, increases the chances that searchers will stay to read long enough to satisfy Google that the content is valuable. In addition, it may also result in a share, mention, link or other valuable indication of quality that boosts organic search.
Mine Keyword Research for Topics Customers Care About
The hardest part can be knowing what customers want to read or watch a video about. From an SEO point of view, the answers can be found in a specialized form of customer research: keyword research. Customers tell Google what they care about, and through the keyword research tool Google allows marketers to view that data.
I’ve addressed keyword research and data mining previously, at “SEO 101, Part 5: Google Keyword Planner” and “SEO 101, Part 6: Going Deep on Keyword Research.”
Use keyword data to find and help prioritize topics for content marketing. Pay special attention to keywords that contain the primary question words: who, what, where, when, why and how. These customers are so interested in learning something of value that they bother to type complete thoughts, a valuable rarity in keyword data.
Customers tell Google what they care about, and through the keyword research tool Google allows marketers to view that data.
For example, if a site sells winter sports equipment, the phrase “how to buy a snowboard” would probably a good topic for content that would improve SEO performance.
In aggregate, Google reports almost 1,900 searches a month on average in the U.S. for keyword phrases directly related to buying a snowboard. That number peaks in December at 4,500 searches. These people don’t want to know how to use an ecommerce site to physically buy a snowboard; they want a guide to the important aspects they need to consider when choosing which snowboard to buy.
Fill that need for a valuable piece of customer-centric content that also has SEO value.
What Do Real Customers Want to Know?
In addition to keyword research, ask customer service personnel to generate content that customers really value. They’re on the front lines communicating with people who want recommendations for what to buy, how to use something, or how products work best together.
Some customer service teams have an established process for categorizing communications with customers; that process can help prioritize content generation in the same way as keyword data can. Even if there’s no formal system of categorization, a chat over coffee with some of the longest-running team members can be invaluable. Their stories and anecdotal evidence are sometimes as useful to a content marketing campaign as formal data.
Integrate Your Content into the Site
Integration is a two-way street. I mentioned that content should be sparsely linked to relevant product or category pages. However, related product and category pages should also link to the content you create.
Consider the snowboard buyer’s guide example. From the guide, it would be reasonable to link to related categories like bindings and different lengths as they’re discussed. But it would also be valuable to customers shopping the site to see a link or promotion for the buyer’s guide on snowboard category and product pages.
This two-way linking integrates content into the site, instead of using it merely as a way to build links to your product catalog. Search engines immediately see one-way linking patterns and discount their value. If an article has one link into it, from a list of articles accessed by a link the footer, for example, it’s clear that the articles are a means of generating additional links rather than offering valuable content meant to be seen by customers.