Marketers who tell you they’re not concerned about Panda, Penguin or
Hummingbird — Google's algorithm updates — may see their content
marketing efforts fall short.
When I first started in content marketing, I was one of those marketers.
Back then, I focused solely on creating valuable content for my
target audience. I didn't think about Google's algorithm updates or
optimizing my content for search engines.
While my goal of creating valuable content remains, I now spend 20
percent of my time factoring SEO into my content marketing. Perhaps it
should be even more.
Let’s look at how other content marketers approach SEO.
When SEO Meets Content Planning
When I plan new content, I choose the topic and develop the content
from the perspective of my target reader. Keywords, while important,
come secondary to satisfying the reader. So for me, it’s readers first,
search engines second.
Brad Shorr (@bradshorr), director of content strategy at Straight North,
takes a similar approach. If real estate value is all about "location,
location, location," Shorr equates content’s value to SEO as "quality,
According to Shorr, "The ultimate purpose of an off-site or on-site
blog post is to generate links. To make content linkable, it must be
relevant, useful and interesting." Shorr notes that keywords are a
consideration, but finds a straightforward way to incorporate them into
"A blog post can be optimized easily for a few keyword phrases. Just
one or two mentions of the exact phrase or related phrases is
sufficient," noted Shorr.
Anne Murphy (@amurphias), the director of content marketing at Kapost,
makes keywords central to her content planning. "I have a defined
keyword and I write with that keyword in mind. Planning for SEO starts
well before many of our blog posts are in production. We also share
keywords with all of our freelancers."
Matt Wesson (@mattbwesson), content marketing manager at Kahuna,
takes the middle ground. While he still uses tools to assess keyword
volume and trends, Wesson has moved away from his extensive keyword
focus of days past. "My main focus when I write a blog post now is 'What
questions are my audience searching for?' and 'Does this piece answer
those questions?' From there, I make sure keywords in the article align
with the keywords my audience would ask in their search."
How Content Marketers Track SEO Impact
Numerous metrics are available to track SEO impact: quantity of
inbound links, quality of inbound links, rank for particular search
terms, etc. But if you could only track one metric, what would it be?
According to Shorr, "Validated sales leads. We go to great lengths to
track phone and form conversions from our content. When our content is
generating sales leads for the agency or clients, we are doing our job."
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Wesson looks at both organic traffic (i.e., traffic from search
engines) and revenue. "Organic traffic from search engines is the most
effective measure of SEO. That being said, this is a metric I look at
less frequently. When tools like marketing automation and CRM can
provide real revenue numbers from content, traffic numbers just don't
have the same significance."
If I had to track a single metric, it would be organic traffic.
Murphy takes a similar approach: "We focus on organic traffic growth.
And through our SEO-focused efforts, we've watched this metric improve
immensely over the past year."
How Google’s Algorithm Updates Impact Content Marketing
Keeping up with every nuance of Google's algorithm updates could turn
into a full time job. Thankfully Google shares a common goal with
content marketers: to provide useful and relevant information to
Google's Panda update, which targeted and penalized low quality
websites, was a win for content marketers who create high quality
content. According to Shorr, "Google's algorithm updates have combined
to reward quality and punish assembly line content that is not relevant,
useful or interesting."
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Wesson elaborated, "The stated intention of Panda was to punish
content mills, keyword stuffing, and any sort of SEO gamesmanship.
That's a pretty direct focus on content marketers. I think most Google
updates are helpful to content marketers, but you always have to be wary
of any changes Google makes."
Murphy's goal at Kapost is to focus on valuable and well-written
content: "We never sacrifice quality for SEO; instead, we make sure the
two support one another. And this seems to be the way search engines are
continuing to evolve, so that will remain our strategy until we learn
that's no longer the case."
How Will SEO Impact Content Marketing Going Forward?
As we learned with the algorithm updates, Google's primary interest
is in serving the searcher. This means that as search habits and
preferences evolve, Google will tune its algorithm. Content marketers
will need to adapt accordingly.
According to Murphy, "As long as people are searching for information
online, SEO will be an important element of content marketing. And I
believe they will remain closely aligned."
Shorr has an interesting take on where SEO and content marketing are
headed: "Google will reward publishers for creating less, rather than
more, content. Google will look for publishers that are selective in
what they choose to publish. Content marketers may have to spend time on
content reclamation: updating the quality of existing content and even
taking lower quality content offline."
Wesson looks to news sites and sees Vox.com as the vanguard of
"explainer journalism." According to Wesson, traditional news sites
focus on the who, what, when and where. Vox, however, focuses on the why
and how. Wesson draws parallels to B2B content and the preference of
"Readers have shifted their preferences towards a deeper
understanding, not just clickbait-style news. Google is optimizing along
the same lines. Content marketers need to start taking a similar
approach to answering important questions, providing insight and
facilitating understanding," said Wesson.
Meeting Quality Standards
Search engines get smarter by the day. Google Hummingbird introduced
semantic search, which attempts to decipher searchers' intent and
provide them with the most relevant content. Keyword coverage took a
backseat to content quality. If a user searched for "baseball gloves"
and you referenced "mitts," Google would still surface your content if
it was relevant and of high quality.
With RankBrain, Google is using machine learning to become even more
adept at deciphering search intent. I think keywords will continue to
decline in importance, while the bar for quality will grow higher. So
the question is how can we, as content marketers, exceed the quality
standards of both readers and search engines?
Note: This post was originally published at CMSWire.
Check out my related presentation on why you can't do content marketing without a CMS.
Why You Can't Do Content Marketing Without a CMS from DNN