Content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) are integral parts of the modern marketing mix, yet they often operate as separate services, achieving different goals, with their own sets of KPIs. The reality is, content marketing and SEO don’t function in a silo, but instead should complement one another to build a robust, results-focused marketing strategy.
In this episode of The Marketing Remix, Ross Briggs, Manager of SEO, and Will Price, Manager of Content Strategy, discuss what it takes to integrate the two tactics, our process for creating relevant consumer content that also drives qualified search traffic to your channels, the importance of search intent vs. keyword ranking, and more.
What are the main differences between the two subject areas?
The main difference between content production for SEO value and content marketing is really the overarching marketing approach. The value of content is to build awareness for a brand via multiple channels and multiple outlets, while utilizing that top-of-funnel content. This also includes pushing people down the funnel, from mid-level to bottom funnel, back to advocacy, and starting that process over. There are multiple different touch points, from an SEO, social media, and paid media perspective, that goes into that content creation.
People tend to view content marketing as a creative and nebulous idea or ideological marketing approach, whereas SEO is more of a baseline functionally. The two have played in their own sandbox for a long time, but now the line's becoming more blurred from a marketing perspective, and the two need to play a lot more closely together.
What's your perspective of search and how it's different than content?
In the world of SEO, “content is king” has been a saying for a long time. Without content, you won’t have any search rankings, as this is really how Google and other search engines are able to understand the meaning or topic of a page, and then make that appear for queries where it's going to be relevant.
At a deeper level, there's value to capturing that search traffic and getting that click, but really we want that user to take some action on the other side of the click. For many companies we work with, this involves some type of conversion action, so we both need to make sure our targeting is correct to capture the right audience. We also need to make sure the content is on strategy to resonate with that audience and allow them to feel confident in taking that conversion action. Even if it's not a lead gen or ecommerce business, there can be significant value in getting a user to click to the next page or stick around and watch the video, and that drives a lot of ad revenue. SEO and content really build off each other by capturing the initial visit, and then resonating with that user after.
So, what comes first, the content or the SEO?
There's a lot to be said for the back-end research of search intent, rankings and keyword research, because those do help guide the content. But at the same time, there's this other side of things where the content might already exist, so you need reverse engineer that to make sure it's fitting the SEO best practices.
Since SEO isn’t able to stand alone without any type of content behind it, content typically comes first. Sometimes, we see a piece of content intended for a social media channel that has a lot of SEO traffic drawing to it. We then take that piece of content and layer in some additional targeting, allowing it to rank for more words.
What are some fundamental strategies for marketers to develop (or optimize) their content to drive traffic and conversions from search?
It really does start with that traffic generation. It can be the best piece of content in the world, but the conversions won't occur if people aren't seeing that. Starting with that traffic generation, it's really important to align what a target audience is looking for with content that has the ability to rank for that type of keyword. From the SEO perspective, it really starts with that fundamental keyword research approach. We have a number of tools that we use to look at keyword demand across different parts of the country or different user segments, whether that be age or different demographic components. These tools give us general topics that we would like to rank for, as well as the deeper long tail queries that can start to help us understand the search intent behind that broader query that we see all the search volume behind.
As you start to uncover your content marketing mix, you really have to understand too, where else people are consuming content and where people are looking for ideas or the solutions to their problems. A lot of this is happening on social media now, giving people a platform to voice their complaints.
The developments in tools and technology to combat this negative feedback on social media have been enormous in the last few years. Tools like BuzzSumo and Netbase allow us to uncover conversations people are having organically, pertaining to a branded search, a topic of interest, or an industry trend. Once we know what people are unhappy with, we can start trying to provide solutions via content before it escalates into a branded problem.
Marketers often focus on keywords to better understand the topics their audience is searching for – but keywords only tell part of the story. How do you determine the “intent” behind user searches?
Long tail search queries can provide more information about both how people are searching and what types of content they're really looking for. If we delve into the longer tail queries, it might look something like, "A list of best running shoes for 2018". This gives us more information about the format of the content they'd prefer, likely some type of numbered or bulleted list. They're also looking for timely content, which gives us more context to inform our content strategy.
Once you have a topic in mind, how do you determine the best format for the content? Are there certain search considerations taken into account here?
In terms of content delivery, there are multiple tools that can tell you what types of content are resonating with what types of audiences. For a deeper dive, it's good to take into consideration some social listening. For example, some aspects of a User Generated Content campaign may be working very well with your UK audience, but performing poorly in the States.
Testing is important for understanding what the searchers want. Look into what's actually getting the engagement, who's engaging with the content, and how they're engaging with the content. When it comes down to it, ask yourself, “Would I engage with it?” “What would I like to see?”. We can use all this data and all these insights, but the humanistic quality is a huge factor.
One really good place to start ideating the types of content that are going to work is to look at what Google's showing on the SERP itself. A few years ago, we were used to just seeing a list of 10 links on any search page, but now it looks much different. We see images, we see videos, we see news carousels all being mixed in within the SERP. Google's also doing a lot of user testing and getting user feedback to tailor each of those SERPs to what people are looking for and going to engage with the most. If we see images or videos showing up, we know that the visual aspects of the content in that case are generally going to be pretty important to people.
The other big consideration that we make for search is really just in crawlability of the content that we do produce. So, whether that be an infographic or a video, the content is a little bit more difficult for search engine spiders to understand. We're always striving to make that content crawlable on the page, whether that be live text in an infographic or video transcripts located below the video itself, and that really allows it to get the visibility and the search rankings that we're looking for.
At times, content opportunities might seem “dry,” but play a pivotal role in turning a lead into a customer. How can these opportunities be capitalized upon, while still invoking excitement about or inspiration from your brand?
If you look at like a Wendy's or all these fast food places on social media, they're making this kind of irreverent content that is somewhat brand related just because they've been able to. They have that brand equity, they've got that brand power, and they're establishing themselves as these snarky entities. But for a dryer brand, it may be a little more difficult.
You want to start with by creating some controversy, or just getting some thought-provoking content written. You can do this through a number of different ways. Creating tangential content or
getting people talking about your product can start to build those conversations. Case studies are also a big way to spice up your content, versus just talking about your product, because it's essentially a storytelling piece that's not overselling.
From the search perspective, sometimes we need to put ourselves in the shoes of somebody else and trust in the search volume. If we find a keyword and we see that people are searching for it, and it seems boring to us at first glance, sometimes you need to just go a little bit deeper. So having that empathy for the situation that people are in, and being able to create content that's going to be helpful for them in that situation can often be the key to a lot of these really valuable B2B sales.
We often see brands (such as Red Bull) release expensive content that’s loosely related to the product they sell. Does this type of content this lead to improved performance in channels like SEO, or is this simply a play on general brand awareness?
For SEO, there's a lot of value in content like this. There's three main factors that go into this and really it all goes back to how Google is measuring brand value or authority to rank for keywords and to have your content appear.
Backlink generation: Content on your site are all linkable assets. Having some content that is useful beyond the purchase allows other websites to link to it because it has that value.
Conversation: Even if you don't get the link, many times you trigger conversations online about your brand, and Google's also looking at unlinked mentions of your brand and the places it's being talked about, whether that's in comment sections or articles themselves about your brand.
Branded search volume: Google's measuring how often people are searching for your brand with products or just in general, and they make an assumption that if more people are seeking you out, then you're probably a good website to show to people who aren't sure who to look to for your industry.
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