What does your content strategy look like?

Digital Transformation, Search / April 2016

Joe Ford

Joe Ford

Need someone to manage a URL migration for a website with millions of pages? Joe's your man. Outside of improving search performance he likes to fine tune his fleet of vehicles.

Have you glanced at it lately? Is it flourishing, spritely and healthy? Or is there nothing in particular to glance at? If you think you have a strategy, but it is unexamined, then arguably there is no strategy.

Content rules

There’s some debate about the term ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ (or just SEO) and the fact that it is, essentially, a bit of a misnomer – after all, does your content actually ‘optimise’ search engines? We still call the process of improving our websites for search engines SEO, but actually the days when you could bung a bunch of keyword-loaded content onto your site in the hopes of hitting high rankings on Google are long gone. Comparing search engine crawlers today to the ones 15 years ago is like comparing a big old zeppelin with the Millennium Falcon; today content is indexed with the speed and elegance of warp technology rather than the quaint manual coding of yesteryear.

So where does content fit into today’s universe of data? Mike Grehan, CMO & Managing Director at Acronym Media, says, ‘For a while content was king. Now data is king, and content is the kingdom.’* Essentially, Grehan observes that content is not a commodity that can be shipped in wholesale and scattered decoratively around a website; rather, user behavior should dictate the nature of the content that evolves out of it. Google now discerns intent and what drives users to visit a site and to return. Keywords are indeed an aspect of what underpins ‘successful’ content, but search engines now decode billions of ‘intentions’ to determine the value of a site in relation to what a user is searching for.

What makes good content?

Consider first what the aim of your content is. If you want to tell your visitor about something then a video might be a good way to communicate information succinctly and visually – particularly on mobiles. However, if you’re talking a user through a shopping list that needs to be downloaded and/or printed, it would be better to present this as text and as a download. Making the users journey easier.

Organic SEO Strategist, Kaled Miah, says: ‘A search engine’s primary objective is to deliver relevant content to the customer. Google and other search engines aren’t trying to trick you; their job is to ensure content is served to the right person at the right time, ensuring too that content is timely and of high quality. The more popular content is, the more likely it is to be more relevant.’

The best way to determine what’s appropriate is to consider your own online experience and what works for you and what hinders your intentions. Search engines scrutinise the visitor’s intent – and whether their intention is informational, navigational or transactional. The other significant challenge is that content competition comes from all quarters: your natural competitors, publishers (who are already all about the content) as well as the content of individuals. We are saturated by content, but there are steps we can take to increase the chances of reaching our target audience and helping them to find us.

Link power

Though links remain a significant page-ranking factor, editorially driven content must be worthy of linking to be rewarded by search engines. No one likes a link farmer who liberally scatters links around their site like manure. In fact, Google’s manual warnings for unnatural backlinks resulted in a permanent change in how links are built. Instead, brands becoming publishers has been a hot topic for many years, with people like Media Innovations Director Andrew Girdwood, of digital agency LBi, promoting this idea at events and forums. Brands that one might not immediately associate with editorial content often have significant online presence because of it. The Sharpie blog, for instance, supplies the perfect canvas for users to engage with exactly what the product is capable of by showcasing and discussing users’ creations in inspired contexts. Furthermore, high-quality links to your site from high-ranking sources assist search engines in rating your site. Links shouldn’t be garnered through paying bloggers to link to you, Google doesn’t like paid links and if your content is good enough then the more sophisticated approach is to write content that attracts bloggers and influencers who will want to link to your site organically. The question, then, is: how do you stand out from the web noise?

Content is about the concepts

Privilege ideas over formats by making sure there’s a story behind your message that resonates with real people. Use infographics to illustrate your narrative rather than allowing them to exist in lieu of one. Make content something people will want to share with others and revisit for fresh updates to continue their engagement in the story you’ve created and in the relationship that you have built with them. Here, content secured by a firm understanding of your target audience underpins any marketing, the search volume around related terms and competitor content pieces, and previous success from your own site.

Deal with reality

Content should be agile and responsive, which means being prepared to respond in real time to what’s going on in the physical world. That means using your social channels to respond ‘live’ to real events. Consider carefully what is ok to say and what might land you in trouble. Engaging in what is unfolding in the real world and relating this to your message or identity in the right way can ensure your brand is relevant not only to people but to search engines too.

Prepare to be spontaneous

If there’s a relevant big cultural event coming up, for example, you will want to have a library of content at hand to respond to it. That might mean infographics, articles, jokes, videos, games, quizzes, quotes – anything that gives your audience value and serves to expand on the perception of your brand’s generosity and to enhance user engagement with your brand.

Content pitfalls

Image is everything

You might have produced the most profound piece of editorial on the product or service you are offering, but if this is something that users wouldn’t want to be seen to be engaging with (think medical, for instance) then that content isn’t going to go anywhere. Few would want their Facebook friends to know they have a problematic and embarrassing medical condition. However, supplying a useful bank of reliable information that your suffering visitor might benefit from is likely to engage users covertly. They may even feel compelled to direct other sufferers there to benefit from your product or service.

Old news

Writing articles is an art and your pages need to include rich, fresh data that users can return to. Duplicated or antique content is, therefore, something to be avoided. In a world in which data can be continually refreshed and developed there can be no excuses for out-of-date references and supplying information that is defunct or irrelevant.

What next?

There are always exciting and new ‘next steps’ to take in the ever-evolving world of Content Analytics; the trick is to keep abreast of them. There are a number of platforms that allow you to analyse your content and identify what users are engaging with now, what they look at on your site and where they are in the buying cycle. This can give you a genuine insight into what is and isn’t working for you. Dive into the data and work out how your content is active in your sales funnel. Beyond data, of course, is a real human being, who has the same needs online that they do offline; therefore, supplying high-quality content that caters for these needs is paramount in the perception, progress and success of your brand.

Sources: *White paper SEONOW2015

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