Lee Odden

Where Social Media and SEO Fit in Today’s Content Marketing Mix

Search Social Content Marketing

Whether your role is in search, social media, marketing communications or PR, the importance of content marketing is unmistakable.

Brand content budgets and participation are up with the vast majority of B2C and B2B marketers now using content marketing. The industry is coming together on best practices and organizations are evolving their structures to include roles like Chief Content Officer and Brand Journalist.

While there is growing synergy between search, social media and content marketing, they don’t often function collaboratively in organizations. There are also some misconceptions about what content marketing really is.

This post will dig in to some of the realities of incorporating an integrated approach that leverages the best of search, social media and content marketing, while dispelling some of the myths that keep integrated efforts apart.

Be the Best Answer

Optimized, socialized, publicized and influencer activated content is essential for reaching information hungry, multi-tasking audiences who are bombarded with new messages every day. In order for brands to be credible and prominent on the search and social web for their customers, they’ll need to understand the best of each discipline and how to put them together. SEO can deliver content-rich answers to buyers at the moment of need, and social media can provide the means to connect and engage. Both publicity and influencer relations provide credibility and reach. All rely on content to achieve success.

While many marketers will debate what comes first, content, social media or SEO, the most practical approach is to use the tactics necessary for your target audience in order to “be the best answer” wherever customers are looking.

SEO is the Condiment, Not the Sandwich

More than keywords and links, search engine optimization is an important part of the success equation when it comes to content marketing. While SEO has traditionally been able to drive online marketing performance on its own, search engine updates to address content quality and the more conversational nature of search behavior have combined with the growing popularity of social networks to change the SEO landscape forever.

Think of SEO this way: If a customer-focused content marketing program is the sandwich, then SEO is the mayonnaise. It touches nearly everything and enhances the overall flavor of the sandwich. But on it’s own, not very appetizing.

SEO for Content or Content for SEO?

Many SEO-turned content marketers are focused on creating more content or creating content as a means to attract links. This is a similar approach as when social media became popular in the SEO world. Social networks and media use was focused on attracting attention to further attract links, not to create relationships, engagement or inspire transactions and referrals.

A simple comparison tells the tale: Having 500 optimized blog posts on every derivative of a 50 phrase keyword list that no one wants to read is no more useful than attracting 50,000 drive-by visitors to your site for 10 seconds each from Reddit. Being held accountable to superficial performance metrics drives superficial tactics. Do you really want your marketing characterized as superficial?

Understanding the difference between mechanical tactics and meaningful outcomes is an important distinction when hiring content marketing professionals or a content marketing agency. It can mean the difference between a keyword hell of thin content, or a content portfolio that serves real customer interests and proudly represents what your brand stands for.

Optimize Your Opportunities

Search marketers are, by their nature, opportunists. Each time a major trend in online marketing emerges, from blogging to social media, SEOs have adapted and engineered their way to discover every possible workaround or tactic to create a marketing advantage. This opportunism has extended to content marketing as well.

Operating within the guidelines of quality marketing, such adaptability is a highly valuable perspective to take. However, when opportunism bleeds into manipulations outside the scope of search engine guidelines, the risks can turn out to be painful and sometimes disastrous to a business.

But here’s the thing: Google is a battleground for SEOs and those with real, on the ground experience that have been able to adapt successfully can become some of the most valuable marketers you will ever find.

Being both creative and analytical as well as lateral thinkers, marketers with an optimized state of mind are particularly adept at finding solutions to complex marketing problems. But those SEOs that are still stuck on content marketing as “more fuel for keywords” and social media as “link building” should probably be avoided.

Social vs. SEO Focused Content Marketing

There are any number of benefits for engaging a SEO focused agency for content marketing compared to a social media agency. They each play essential roles for content amplification at all stages of the buying cycle. Here are a few common characteristics of each:

SEO Focused Content Marketing

  • Tactical approach: more content equals more search presence
  • Topics derived from actual search demand
  • Keyword managed content plans tied to performance
  • Continuous cycle of performance improvement using search analytics
  • Organic amplification is “built-in” to content creation
  • Content promotion, link building and social promotion
  • Good SEO is good user experience
  • Technical optimization
  • Performance is focused on search KPIs and conversions

Social Media Focused Content Marketing

  • Topics focused on brand and messaging
  • Shorter form content: status updates, blog posts, image tiles
  • Topics managed by social content calendar
  • Social monitoring surfaces new, real-time content opportunities
  • Amplification is often organic but increasingly paid
  • Influencers engaged to co-create and promote through social
  • Performance is based on views and engagement
  • Conversion and ROI are more difficult to measure with confidence

What should companies look for with search and social media when considering content marketing resources?

Goals and accountability are essential for an optimized and socialized content marketing program to succeed. For an integrated approach, here are three of your most important considerations to ensure content performs for customers and your brand.

  1. Attract –  How will the particular content object attract exposure? Will your content perform as part of an ongoing narrative? Will it be a part of a sequence? Will it be connected to other content objects through links, repurposing or curation? Where content is promoted on social networks will matter for attraction as much as what phrases and questions are used for search engine optimization.
  1. Engage – How will the content object be meaningful to the reader such that they interact, react and respond to it?  What context needs to exist in order for the content to be so relevant that it inspires action? Social Media and Search both play a role in developing the context for engagement. When they interact with what they find, does the customer think, “Yes, that’s exactly what I was looking for”, or something else?
  1. Convert – How will the optimized content object persuade the reader to take the next step? Each content object can play a role in guiding the reader from one stage to the next in a brand and customer relationship. From awareness to purchase to advocacy, conversions are happening at each stage whether it’s a social share, subscribing to a newsletter, downloading a white paper, signing up for a webinar, filling out an inquiry form or making a referral.

Within your content plan, think about how you can make these actions easy and intentional for the target customer.  An optimized content plan means being accountable to discovery, how it’s best consumed and what messages will inspire action.

Remember, content is the reason search began in the first place.  Take an optimized approach to incorporating search, social media, publicity and influencers with your content marketing programs. Make sure your content is accountable for attraction, engagement and conversion. With that focus on accountability, the investment you make in high quality, optimized and socialized content will pay returns over and over again.

If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check out Optimize for a full plan on developing an integrated content marketing program.

Image: Shutterstock

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About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.