Creating great content is hard. Creating it so that it also benefits search engine optimization isn’t that much more difficult. My last two articles, “To Improve SEO, Understand How It Works” and “SEO: Content Is King but Links Are Gold,” focused on the importance of four surprisingly simple concepts that underlie all of SEO: value, relevance, authority, and optimal accessibility.
Text for today’s SEO moves beyond the mechanical use of precise keywords into a more nuanced practice of creating the right contextual relevance to attract more searchers. But for all of that, it’s still words – unique textual content on a web page focused on the topics that real searchers use when they type a query into the search bar.
Those words have no value by themselves, though. Without links pointing to their web pages, the words we struggle to craft may as well not even exist as far as search engines are concerned. Links provide the ability to access content. Links also provide authority signals that prove that the content is worthy of displaying to searchers.
The four concepts — value, relevance, authority, and optimal accessibility — are easy enough in theory. But what does great content with SEO benefit look like in reality?
The answer is deceptively simple: Content that has SEO value is truly valuable to your shoppers, is clearly relevant to a topic they care about enough to search for, is intentionally linked to and from other pages within the site to drive shoppers to the content and onward, to find relevant products, and is optimally accessible to search engine crawlers. Without all four of these elements, content will not be truly beneficial to SEO.
Sephora’s Great Content
Beauty industry leader Sephora creates great content for shoppers — with SEO benefit. The content covers three of the four bases for SEO value with the foundation makeup buying guide.
If you wear makeup, you know what a frustrating experience it is to find the right color, coverage, and finish of foundation. Laugh if you will, but foundation is expensive. Many users of makeup have multiple buying mistakes in their drawer because they weren’t sure which one was right. Sephora addresses the need with its foundation buying guide shown below and other similar tools based on using makeup to achieve the desired effect. Of the four concepts, Sephora has value covered in spades.
Sephora also earns high marks for linking well both to and from its foundation buying guide. The image above shows the buying guide in the banner at the top of the foundation category page – right where shoppers will see it early enough for it to add value to their shopping experience instead of having them leave the site confused.
I anticipate your argument already: “If I take shoppers to a non-commerce page they’ll just take the knowledge and go somewhere else to shop.” They might. And they might leave in larger numbers to shop somewhere else that actually offers strong informational content.
Linking back to the commerce experience in a way that’s useful to the shopper is key to retaining that sale. Yes, if you offer educational content like a buying guide and don’t make it easy for the shopper to convert, you’ll probably lose more of the sales. But if you link back and forth between ecommerce and content, effectively making them part of the same experience, it doesn’t feel forced or heavy handed. And it benefits SEO.
With this knowledge in hand, Sephora links to its buying guides very visibly – Sephora wants shoppers to go there and learn before buying their ideal product. And on the buying guides, Sephora offers clear and helpful links back to related subcategories and filtered pages, as shown in the image below. To my mind, however, there are too many links back to individual products; for example, I keep mistaking the foundation buying guide for a category page because there are so many products at the top of the page.
If Sephora gets high marks on linking, it falls down on the issue of optimal accessibility. The only accessible content that Sephora offers on its great buying guide is found in the title tag and image alternative attributes. All of the words that look like textual content displayed on the page are actually embedded within images. Yes, the images have alt attributes, but that’s never a substitute for HTML text on a page.
As a result, relevance takes a hit here as well. The content itself is relevant to searchers’ desires based on keyword research, and the few accessible signals it does send are on message. But the content is not accessible to send relevance signals to search engines. Without accessible body copy, this page loses mush of its ability to benefit SEO.
Don’t dismiss this as relevant only to Sephora or other big ecommerce brands. Creating great content doesn’t have to be expensive. And creating it so that it also has SEO benefit costs nothing additional except for the time it takes to learn these four concepts and apply the knowledge to your content.
Similarly, great content is not just for “interesting industries.” Tell that to Blendtec or Rite in the Rain, which managed, respectively, to make unexciting products like blenders and paper interesting, on a small budget. Starting from a home camera and a blender, Blendtec’s campaign was so wildly successful that today it is sought out by unrelated brands, including Ford and Delta Airlines, to co-promote their offerings.