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31 May 2012

Content Marketing and SEO: a Marriage Made in Mountain View

Content-Marketing-and-SEO-a-Marriage-Made-in-Mountain-View

More than 2 billion people worldwide use the internet. When they want a product or service, they don’t pick up the yellow pages (if you still do, you might want to skip this article). They go online and “Google” it as Google generally provides fast results and relevant information — generally. In fact, according to a study by GroupM, 93% of all buyers online or in stores use search prior to making a purchase.

The growth curve for Internet use continues to be sharp, even today. Driven in large part by the ability of the Internet to deliver more content at faster rates and for lower costs, this explosive change to Internet usage has led to a massive cultural change.

Google Just Converted the Non-Believers

However, the web is loaded with junk and Google wants to give users a better surfing experience with relevant, high quality sites displayed in their search results. With the Panda algorithm updates, Google went on a cleaning spree to weed out low quality sites with weak content and of no use to the searchers. Then Google came out with a page layout algorithm earlier this year that penalizes the sites with little content “above the fold.”

With the release of the “Penguin” update (originally dubbed the “webspam update” ), Google took a serious step towards targeting webspam. Sites with lousy content, keyword stuffed content and those using spammy link schemes are getting hit. As Google says, “We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.”

Well this finally seems to have gotten people’s attention. Two years ago I began writing Accelerate! which focuses on content marketing for businesses. Even after it was published in August of 2011, and with events like Content Marketing World getting more than 500 attendees, many businesses did not follow our advice: create engaging content. Engaging content attracts visitor and links. But in the last 30 days it seems everyone is a content marketing convert. Thank you Google!

Content Marketing is the New Marketing

Simply put, web users are consumers of content. Therefore, you need to deliver compelling content that will engage your customers and keep them coming back for more. People are calling this “The New Marketing.” Most significantly, web users are searching for content to consume. This is key for any business’s relevance and branding. In fact, Vanessa Fox in her book Marketing in the Age of Google emphasizes, “Those businesses that don’t realize that we’ve experienced a shift in consumer behavior and that customers and customer data are now centered on search will lose market share to those that do”. Fortunately, it isn’t too late to get on board. You haven’t missed the boat, but you don’t have the luxury of waiting to build a content marketing strategy, either. To put it a bit more bluntly, in the words of Brian Solis, you need to “Engage or Die!”

To Learn, Have Fun and Socialize

People spend their time online, and that’s where your marketing strategy needs to go. Your potential customers are online for a variety of reasons. The public relations firm Ruder Finn conducted a survey asking, why, exactly, do people go online? They categorized their results into the following seven reasons people use the Internet, descending from most common reason to least common:

  • To Learn (self-education, for research, to keep informed)
  • To Have Fun (to pass time, to be entertained, to escape)
  • To Socialize (to connect, to share, to discuss, to be part of a community)
  • To Express Yourself (to opine, to entertain others, to emote, to be creative)
  • To Advocate (to influence others, to activate support, to join a cause)
  • To Do Business (to work, to manage finances, to sell)
  • To Shop (to purchase, to compare)

From the list above, it’s evident that the critical mass for your content strategy will center on the top three reasons people are online: to learn, to have fun, and to socialize.

You may want them to shop on your site, for example, but you connect with them by providing some form of entertaining content that leads them to your site. Users want to engage with the content they find; that is, they want to stay on the page and interact with it. If the content doesn’t engage them, they move on, or bounce, and continue searching.

Remember, searchers are either going to engage with you — or your competitors.

Wearing the Publisher Hat

It’s been said many times before but if you have a website, you’re a publisher, and you have to think like one. This means producing fresh content on a regular basis. Print publishers create content to survive, because that’s their business. On the Internet, it’s the same for you. You need to keep thinking about content ideas at all times. You should encourage your entire organization to do the same. A content marketing mindset means always being on the lookout for new content marketing possibilities.

The bottom line is that achieving the goals in a content marketing strategy takes some effort. For any business owner or marketing director, to add publisher to the number of hats they already have to wear and to add information to their list of key products requires a commitment of time and energy. So, how can businesses make it work?

Top down buy-in is critical, especially for small businesses. Key executives need to recognize that a content marketing strategy is crucial to their success on the Internet, and they need to understand that they, too, will have to participate. Once the top has bought in, you can get the rest of the staff involved – especially the SEOs. There is a place for everyone to help create content. Here are some ideas:

  • Brainstorm with your entire staff for content ideas. Ask them what questions they are consistently fielding from your customers and answer them via video.
  • Talk to your shipping manager and create an infographic where you explain the shipping process for your business.
  • Take pictures of your next lunch & learn and post them on your blog.
  • Interview an expert in your market every month as a feature on your blog.
  • When you or your team attend industry events, take pictures and write up a summary of the event.
  • You can engage your executives in a Twitter chat – have them answer questions from your Twitter follower fans (and repurpose the content to your blog).
  • See what is working for your competition and do it better!

Above all, top-down buy-in means that you can look to anyone and everyone to provide inspiration and new ideas for content. Foster a fun environment where creative expression is valued. The more you encourage creativity, the more you can gain from your content marketing strategy.

A Marriage Made in Mountain View

It seems it took Google’s big actions to finally convince the masses that putting in the effort to create great content is the way to go. But this by no means implies SEO is no longer important. You must optimize every single piece of content: the text, the images, the video. All of it! You then need to promote it. Distribute it. And get links to it. Professional SEOs understand this better than anyone. To me, Google just made our jobs easier. We are no longer fielding question about how many links can we get someone for $1,000. Instead, we now have all the support we need to turn those discussions into truly growing our clients businesses.

I would love to read your comments on this whole concept now that a few weeks have passed by since Penguin arrived on the scene.