Thursday, July 30, 2015
How Your Content Strategy Should Affect Your SEO Expectations
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I could get them a No. 1 Google ranking for a specific non-branded, hyper-competitive keyword, I would be rich. If I had a dollar for the number of times the people asking me that question actually had the content to warrant such a listing, I would be poor.
Many digital marketing folks, especially in enterprise B2B companies, don't quite understand the relationship between content and SEO. It's long been said in SEO circles that content is king.
However, some SEO folks would argue that links or social engagement is king, and that content is the primary driver of links and social success. There are valid arguments on all sides of that meaningless debate, but the point that often gets lost is that creating the best user experience for the vast majority of people searching for a specific keyword is probably what's going to get you ranked consistently for that keyword.
A content strategy that supports that bigger vision is typically different than the customer-focused strategies most B2B companies use. Many people over the years have told me, "Our company is the market leader for this term! We should be No. 1!" That is often true for products or services that are relevant to the keyword phrase they are targeting. It is true that brand recognition - and certainly the links that typically accompany successful brands - make it more likely that a company will rank well for relevant terms, but the fact remains that brand authority is not always enough to guarantee a top ranking for a particular keyword.
I would argue that that is less likely to be the case in the future, as search algorithms become more sophisticated at measuring user satisfaction and engagement. Links are still a pretty good reflection of quality so they carry a lot of weight in most search engine algorithms, particularly Google. However, there is no doubt that the ever-increasing weight of other signals designed to reward good user experience will ensure that going forward, if you don't deliver the content that people want, your company won't be found for that keyword.
I'm sure many people reading this will say, "Hey, Catfish, this is old news." But I would argue that it is still one of the biggest issues facing companies, especially B2B companies, today, as they spend a lot of money on SEO in hopes of attaining top 10 listings for their target keywords. I often see companies primarily producing marketing content that they think will help sell their products and then expecting that content to rank on the first page of Google for their primary keyword. If you look at it from the big picture, there are very few companies producing marketing content so compelling for the average user - who is searching on a general, non-brand keyword - that it truly deserves to be called one of the top three resources on the Internet for that term.
Take the phrase "Database management," for example. Most B2B companies targeting this phrase have content that speaks to their service offerings, their products, their competitive differentiators and possibly, some thought leadership content that speaks to current events or where they see the future of database management going. They may even have a definition page called something along the lines of, "What is Database Management?" specifically to target that phrase, not complement any other content. All of these things are a good start to ranking highly for the term "database management,: but oftentimes, those content segments still serve a relatively limited audience, given the number of different personas who are using that search term.
If you are truly trying to create a site that's a top three resource for a term like "database management," you will need to become an authoritative hub for all things database management. This means that the page that will most likely be ranking for this keyword will be less about selling products or services and more about meeting the needs of the average user doing the query. It means that this page will typically be a top level navigation page with links to deep content around all things database management. A content strategy like this certainly includes links to your product and service pages, but it also includes links to your thought leadership content; your definition page; your take on the state of the industry, recent industry events that will affect the entire industry, and common problems facing folks in the industry that your offering helps solve. You should also include answers to common questions that people - all kinds, not just your target customers - have with the term.
It will certainly be the top level node in some of the most comprehensive information on the subject that can be found anywhere on the Internet. It will also be easy to use with careful thought into the user journeys of all potential visitors. It will load quickly and be mobile friendly. In short, the content emphasis shifts slightly away from marketing and selling, and more to education, thought leadership and the engagement of as many different personas who might be using this keyword query as possible. In other words, it should truly be one of the best resources online for the entire audience of folks who typically do searches for this keyword phrase.
Most companies would do better to focus on casting a wide net on longer tail, more specific keyword phrases that are part of larger conversations around topics that contain many keywords. SEO success should be measured in traffic and conversions, as opposed to rankings for vanity keywords, which often convert at a lower rate because of how generic they are. Chasing these kinds of fat head keywords makes sense for some, but certainly not most, brands.
Of course, explaining this strategy to a CMO can be tricky when the company has prioritized ranking for certain keywords as part of their KPI set. In those cases, don't tell folks they shouldn't focus on rankings for specific keywords for their primary SEO success KPIs. Instead, you can paint the picture of what deserving to rank for such a keyword entails and what the commitment would have to be, in order to have a realistic expectation of being successful.