Here’s a parable about SEO and influencer marketing mastery:
I can play the guitar. If there’s no one else in the room who knows anything about guitar, I can pass for a guitarist. Give me a chord sheet for your song of choice, and I can lead a sing-along like nobody’s business. Unless there are weird chords like C#m7, of course.
Stevie Ray Vaughan could also play guitar. In his hands, the guitar seemed like a living creature. It moaned; it wailed; it could sound happy or sad or righteously ticked off. Give him a backbeat and a bass line, and his fingers could fly up and down the fretboard, no chord sheet required.
So what’s the difference between my clumsy strumming and Stevie’s divine riffing? Mastery.
We’ve been working on a scrum transformation at TopRank marketing, so we’ve been learning about the concept of Shuhari, a description of the three stages of mastering any discipline:
- Shu: Learning the fundamentals and techniques
- Ha: Breaking from tradition to explore new forms
- Ri: Transcending the forms because you embody them – all your moves come from within
Stevie was all Ri. I’m a solid Shu with gusts up to lower Ha.
Which leads back to SEO and influencer marketing. Many marketers are stuck at Shu for SEO: research keywords, put them in the title tags and meta descriptions, link to the keyword in the first paragraph, use alt image tags… there’s nothing wrong with any of these practices. They’re just the basic forms.
It’s the same with influencer marketing. The basic form is contacting influencers for a specific piece of content, encouraging them to amplify the content, and then moving on. That’s a solid, strategic way to do it. But it’s still Shu.
When you embody the forms–when you hit Ri-level SEO–everything about you and your content draws readers to you. You become an influencer, you attract influencers, and content flows between you and your peers.
TopRank Marketing’s CEO Lee Odden recently sat in on the More Demand podcast with Lawrence Howlett. In the interview, Lee offered a holistic view of SEO and influencer marketing that sounds pretty Ri to me. Here are the basics, as he explained them:
Mastery in Content: Content that IS SEO
Content creators tend to treat SEO like the final step in a manufacturing process. The content just came off the assembly line, now run it through the SEO sprayers and we’re good to go.
Say you sell tools for auto mechanics. You notice the word “wrench” has high search volume. So you write content, then you add in “wrench” throughout the title, content, and meta tags. You link to the content on Twitter with #wrench. Even if you somehow succeed in ranking for wrench, what percentage of your traffic are going to be auto mechanics looking to buy the specific wrenches you sell?
Ri-level content starts with questions that your current and potential customers need answered. You can find these questions in a number of places:
- Google Webmaster Tools shows what queries surface page views for your site
- Your site’s internal search engine logs queries
- Question and answer sites like Quora show what people are asking
- Reviews for products and services give insight into customer’s concerns
- Top-performing content on your site indicates where customer interest is
On an ongoing basis you can pull in data from all these sources, corroborate to see what the most common questions are, and let those questions drive your content.
The content you create will still contain keywords—but not because you bolted them on at the end of the assembly line. The keywords and related phrases will be baked into the content. And the content will be specifically written to address what your customers are searching for. You will have the answers to their questions, expressed in a way that pulls them closer to becoming a customer.
Keep the title and meta tags best practices, for sure. But the real organic boost your content gets will come from within. It’s the difference between “Hey, Google, make people read this,” and “Hey, Google, we want to read this.”
Mastery in Link Building: Your Reputation Attracts Links
The same backwards strategy that leads to keyword-stuffing also applies to link building. Back in the bad old days, people thought, “Ah, search engines boost my content if I have backlinks. How can I trick the algorithm into thinking I have backlinks, or trick people into linking to my stuff?”
Which led to thin, uninformative content topping the SERP, and changes to the algorithm, and a lot of very expensive houses of cards crashing down. All because people were asking, “How do I get backlinks for SEO?” instead of, “how can I create content and a brand people want to link to?”
To master link building, Lee recommends becoming an active participant in your industry. Promote quality content to your audience and it will grow. Use your existing visibility to create opportunities off your own site:
- Write contributed articles to industry magazines
- Contribute to online and offline newsletters
- Do interviews—the rise of podcasting is a wealth of interview possibilities
All of these offsite signals of credibility channel back to your site. The goal is to have exposure to a new audience. If that results in a link, that’s good; even if it doesn’t, you still get a boost in reputation.
On the other end of the value exchange, don’t hesitate to link to other people’s content that you deem worthy of your audience’s attention. When the TopRank blog was just starting out, Lee kept a list of top marketing blogs. Every few months he would publish a revised list, adding a few newcomers, and would notify everyone who made the list. He built a relationship with other content providers that resulted in far more credibility and link building than he could have got chasing links.
So instead of sweating link building: Create a reputation of providing content worth linking to, take every opportunity to promote off site, and be generous with links on your site. Build credibility, and links will build themselves.
Mastery in Influencer Marketing: Become the Influencer
Influencer marketing is a major trend in content marketing right now, and some of the influencer flirtation going on is clumsy at best. Imagine walking up to a stranger in a bar and asking them to marry you. Most of the time, that approach won’t work—and the one time it does, I advise you to run like heck in the opposite direction.
Becoming an influencer marketing master starts with the kind of mastery I covered in the first two subheads. You create content that is so good, so relevant it embodies SEO. You add so much value to your industry’s conversation that you embody link-building credibility.
That means you are an influencer. People know who you are, what you stand for, and how you solve people’s problems. So when you reach out to influencers to start a relationship, you’re never starting at zero. You can say, “You know I make cool things. You have great ideas. Let’s make something cool together.”
Then, instead of creating a single piece of content and calling it a day, cultivate relationships with your influencers. Ask them for tips on the topics your customers care about. Interview them with the questions your customers need answered. You will boost your authority by including them, and they will get a credibility boost from working with you, because your content so expertly addresses people’s needs.
When you embody influence, you can also ask potential clients to co-create content with you. Invite them to make something cool with you for the greater good. As with all influencer marketing, it’s a win for all involved—with the bonus that now you have a relationship with a potential client, and you got it through a positive mutual experience. No selling involved.
To Master Marketing Tactics, Stop Thinking about Marketing Tactics
Everyone’s looking for “silver bullet” marketing tactics—that magic formula that you can enter and watch the conversions come rolling in. But Ri-level marketers understand that you don’t start with tactics. It starts with really understanding your specific group of customers. Then you can write content that embodies the answers they’re searching for, build credibility because you deserve it, and attract influencers because you are influential.
That’s how you go from strumming Wonderwall in a coffee shop to shredding blues riffs at a stadium concert.
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