We’ve debated content vs links as it relates to SEO as well as the general merits of content in online marketing for several years on this blog. Most of the advice about content optimization comes from a search engine optimization perspective, or at least, from SEOs. I decided to reach out to a good number of people that work mostly on the content side of internet marketing to get their opinions of the interplay between content and SEO with a strategic perspective.
Five of those content marketing smarties are featured below including: Jon Wuebben President/CEO of Custom Copywriting and author of “Content Rich”, Heidi Cohen, President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, Adjunct Professor at NYU and Columnist at ClickZ, Joe Pulizzi, founder of Junta42 & Z Squared Media and author of “Get Content. Get Customers”, Heather Lloyd-Martin, President/CEO of SuccessWorks and Sally Falkow, President of Expansion Plus, Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research.
How would you define “content marketing strategy” and what role does it play in a SEO effort?
Falkow: A content marketing strategy is a plan based on in-depth research – keywords, search volume, competing pages in the search engines, looking at your own analytics and your current rankings.
Pulizzi: Creating a content marketing strategy means developing a keen understanding of what your customers need to know and then delivering it to them in a compelling way to create or maintain a behavior. It’s an important to differentiate the content strategy as part of the overall integrated marketing strategy because developing a content strategy forces you to think more like a publisher than a marketer. It’s less about sales spin, and all about delivering a consistent message that is valuable and relevant.
It’s hard to think about creating an effective SEO strategy without first developing the content marketing strategy. Getting people to your web pages is one thing, getting customers to feel and think a certain way about your content, and then creating a behavior change is another all together. The two go hand in hand, but without a content strategy that makes sense for your business and your customers, the SEO strategy either won’t make sense to customers, or won’t accomplish the organizational goals and tactics of the business.
Cohen: From a marketing perspective, I define content marketing strategy as providing relevant information for your prospects, customers and other important audiences (such as press) at every point in the buying process to aid purchase, support post-purchase usage and encourage advocacy.
To this end, it’s important to place content including instructions, how to articles, marketing collateral, photographs, video, forums, ratings and other information where consumers will look for it using search. Understand that consumers may use different terms at different points in the process depending on how they view the information which can be important to your SEO efforts. Once users find the information, make sure that they can engage with your firm or product via a variety of tools including “Buy It Now” buttons, Email-a-Friend, Print This Page, Customer Service, 800 number and other engagement features.
Wuebben: Your content marketing strategy is a systematic and planned approach you take to develop site copy, blog content, press releases, articles, newsletters, videos, podcasts, e-book and/or white paper downloads and other forms of content that enahnces and builds your relationship with new prospects, current clients, the media and those in your industry. Through developing this relationship, you secure a long-term, two-way “benefit channel” for both yourself and them. People buy from those who they have a high comfort level with. If you have a large network through the relationships you’ve built from your strategic content efforts, you will always have a steady stream of buyers for your products and services.
The role content strategy plays in the SEO effort is simple: if your content can be ranked high in the search engines for your keyword phrases, you will attract more prospects, media attention and industry interest at a faster rate. It makes the marketing of your content much easier, because its placing it on their front door. If all they have to do to see your content is open their door, then you’ve just accomplished something that many other companies have not and it gives you a competitive advantage. Note: the content must be relevant and high quality and the content must be updated and added to frequently for maximum impact.
What advice can you give companies that are looking for the benefits of an overall content marketing strategy while enhancing search visibility through SEO?
Lloyd-Martin: The benefits are huge from a conversion standpoint as well as a SEO standpoint. But first, let’s talk about SEO. Google states that site owners should create a “useful, information-based site” and to “write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.” Right there, Google is stressing the importance of content. We know that how a page is written around a keyphrase focus can have an incredible impact on search engine visibility. Plus, content naturally gains long-tail keyphrase positioning that a site owner wouldn’t necessarily target – yet brings in qualified traffic. So yes, the more pages you have on your site, the more ways that people can find your site. The more content you have, the more positioning opportunities you have. The more that your site is considered a “resource” in Google, the better the site will position. It’s a win-win.
But let’s look at it from the sales/marketing side. Prospects are evaluating your site to determine their next conversion step. Have you grabbed their interest enough to get them to call you for more information? Does your writing make folks think it’s worth it to give you their email address to download your white paper. Does the content tempt your prospects into buying from you rather that your competitor? The quality of your writing – and here we’re getting into old-school direct response – can make the difference between a conversion and a fast exit. Content strategy is more than just about how pages position with the engines. It’s about how successful the writing is in getting your prospects to take action. It’s about speaking your customer’s language and making your case so convincingly that your prospects can’t help but take your next action step. Sure, sales-oriented pages help with this (like product pages.) But articles, FAQ pages, blog entries – these are all content snowflakes that can melt together and cause an avalanche of sales.
1. Analyze your current web presence – What is the state of your existing content? What types of content do you have? If you only have a five page website and thats it, you know you have work to do. If you are looking into the various types of content I pointed out above, you are ahead of most and on your way. If you are actively engaged in all the types of content I mentioned above, then you are in the top 10%. If you are connecting with new prospects, building your database and driving new sales from your new content, then you are in the top 5% and you are a truly model for other companies.
2. Look at your online competitors. How does their content compare to yours? Are they capturing email addresses and marketing through a newsletter and a blog? Do they have a forum where customers can discuss their products and services? Is their site built out with benefit-rich, call to action pages? Take some time and really see what you are up against, be sure to check their links, their meta tags and their presence in social media sites like Stumble Upon, Technorati and others. Your goal: be better than them.
3. Start building your content. Whether you do it yourself, through partnerships, or use a mix of both (recommended), there is no better time than right now to start growing your content. As you do, remember your keyword phrases and be sure to include them. Remember the rules of SEO and follow them. Keep in mind the needs of your future customers and write about them. If you dont know how to go about it an need help, reach out and start building your network. Dont know the first thing about keywords? Use Wordtracker. Confused about SEO? Find a good Search Marketing Firm that knows it inside and out. Dont have the time to write? Locate a great web copywriter and outsource to them.
Cohen: An overall content strategy can enrich your site’s offering from your customers’ perspective. In essence, you are providing an augmented product since the content, whether developed internally or through your customers, is part of your offering and can distinguish your firm from competitors. Further, by providing targeted information, you can enhance your customer relationships by becoming a trusted source.
Pulizzi: All companies, no matter what the size, must start to think more like publishers than ever before. Consumer behavior has changed drastically over the past few years. Customers are more accepting of content from “non-media” sites and the barriers to publishing are now non-existent. This has created a tremendous opportunity for businesses, but one that has a short leash. Customers’ content expectations when going to corporate web sites are higher than ever. If you can’t deliver on their perception of your brand promise quickly through your web content, they will simply go elsewhere.
The best advice is to first identify what your customers need to hear to make their lives better or jobs easier. What’s the information that they need to know that keeps them up at night. That’s exactly the kind of content that you need to be giving them. Once you understand that, deliver it to them quickly and easily – and maybe most importantly, do it on a consistent basis. Whatever you decide are the best content initiatives (blogs, enewsletters, eZines, digital magazines, etc.), create a content production plan and stick to it. Once this is accomplished, fitting the content within your SEO strategy (which is part of the content strategy) is much easier to implement.
What comes first, keywords and SEO or content marketing strategy? Why?
Cohen: Your content marketing strategy and SEO strategy should be developed first to ensure that they work together to enhance your brand and offering.
Wuebben: I think it all starts with keywords. This gives you the “lay of the land” for your industry. By engaging in an extensive keyword research effort, you start seeing patterns, begin understanding how your future customers think and develop a firm knowledge of how the search engines, namely Google, works. This is all fundamental. Plus, most businesses have no idea what their prospects are searching for. Most websites dont have a clue about keyword research. The bottom line is that if you are on page 1 for these phrases, you will receive more clicks and more inquiries than others. Its that simple. To start with your keyword research effort, get a free trial on WordTracker.com or KeywordDiscovery.com and go to work!
Once you have your keyword phrases researched, look into SEO and putting together your content marketing strategy simultaneously. You want to ensure that what you develop is fully optimized from the start. Again, if you are intimidated by Search Engine Optimization, seek to partner with a leading SEM firm.
Pulizzi: Understanding your industry keywords is an important part of the content exploration process, but I’m a believer that the content marketing strategy must come first (see above). You can have the best SEO strategy in the world, but if the content doesn’t move them to action once you get them to your site, then what’s the point. A solid content marketing strategy will help you understand the process of conversion because it delivers on your customers’ needs and expectations. In my opinion, the SEO strategy has a short shelf live without content (which is why SEO consultants are now continually banging the drum with their customers about the creation of great and ongoing content).
Falkow: Keyword research comes first – along with the other things I mentioned in point 1. Once you have that data you can formulate a content marketing strategy. Then you can go after your SEO in an intelligent manner
Example – for a consumer electronics retailer it makes more sense to started with SEO for digital camera accessories. It’s easier to get on page one for that term than digital camera – much less competition. And the sale of these accessories is more profitable. That page one listing will drive traffic and sales while you continue to work on the broader term digital camera over time.
Lloyd-Martin: For sales copy, I always advise letting keyphrases drive the content marketing strategy as much as possible (although, admittedly, this is a personal preference). Here are some specifics about “why keywords first”:
(1) It’s often easier to blend keywords into new sales copy than retrofit them into existing copy. “Optimized” copy (where the keyphrases are added later) often sounds and reads like “optimized” copy, and the sales focus can be lost.
(2) Keyphrase research can uncover a wealth of “hidden” content opportunities that a company would have never considered. For instance, you may learn that a good volume of searchers are searching for “how to choose a digital camera” – and your site sells digital cameras. Aha! A content idea! That allows your writers to go back, create a sales page focused around the new keyterm (plus a couple other keyterms) and give readers exactly what they want. Keyphrase research, in this case, allows companies to learn what their prospects are interested in reading and create content geared towards their needs.
It’s important to note that publisher sites will write about what they want to write about, putting content marketing strategy first – and then they work with a SEO copywriting shop to optimize the content for keyphrases. This is also perfectly OK. Publishers know their target audience well and know exactly what their audience wants to read. The SEO copywriter’s job is to merely make the content easier to find in the engines without taking away from the informational flow.
Something incredibly important to mention is that “content marketing strategy” is more than sticking keywords into your copy. If you are writing sales copy, it’s important to use direct-response techniques, focusing more on persuasion than keyword density. It’s great to get a top ranking. But if the copy is so stuffed with keyphrases that it loses its persuasive power, it’s doing you absolutely no good.
Mapping keywords to content is a fundamental part of on-page site optimization program. It encourages content creators and marketers to assign specific meaning and purpose at the page level. Sounds logical, right? Why do you think so few companies practice it?
Pulizzi: Look at the editorial experts in almost every industry. They were never taught to create content by mapping keywords, or even considering keywords at all until just a few years ago. It is foreign to many, and it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks.