The search industry is booming. Competition for keywords – organic or paid – has never been higher. All forms of digital content multiply and prosper. Underneath it all, however, tectonic plates are shifting. Slowly but surely, almost everything that used to constitute search engine optimization (SEO) has become ineffective or risky.
SEO tactics are being taken off the table and a gap has begun to arise between what is needed – digital visibility – and the tactics, tools, and business processes needed to achieve it. Brands that learn how to evolve their approach to SEO and content to fit this new world will emerge on top. Brands facing this challenge would do well to focus attention on the means and the ends.
Brands want SEO as a means to achieve the ends of building a conversation, engaging customers, and driving sales.
The idea is to take an SEO perspective on content and merge it with content strategy, editorial, distribution, and planning. Sounds good in principle, but how does it work?
Know Your Keywords.
The first step is to build a master keyword list – a large set of keywords that defines your strategic keyword universe. This list will change over time. Update it whenever you see a need for new content or you move into a new sector or business.
Build your list, be comprehensive, and don’t limit yourself to what’s currently out there or to the existing language of the customer. Think about what language you want to define and own.
You will be creating content, so you have a chance to shape the discussion and create new ideas (and potential keywords). Some of the best thought leadership and strategy firms have been using this approach successfully for years – they come up with a new concept or phrase, publicize it with original content, become the expert and own the discussion – at least for a while.
Check Your Current State and Competitive Position.
Take the list, get your baseline rankings, and compare it against a broad set of competitors in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Now you know what keywords you care about, how well you're doing on them, and what competitors and ranking content looks like for each phrase.
So far, so good – traditional search keyword research. But what happens next is new.
Build a Search-Informed Content Plan.
Review and prioritize your keywords and map each keyword to a content type, distribution channel (Facebook post, blog post, YouTube, etc.) and content type (video, article, etc.). Plot it out into a rough schedule to build the online of a keyword-driven content plan.
Now it’s time to get creative.
Take each of your keywords and turn them into the title of an article, video, or blog post that people might care about.
For most brands attracting users isn't an aim in and of itself. The point is to drive users toward some desired action. Hence, for each piece on content on the editorial plan assign a destination URL – this is the page that will convert the traffic into your desired business outcome – be it a product page, a lead capture form, a registration form, or campaign messaging. Where possible include a link to the destination URL in the final content using appropriate anchor text.
Creation, Publishing, and Content Distribution.
At this point, you start creating or repurposing content that aligns to your larger keyword strategy. Make the infographics, shoot the video, and start posting to Facebook.
Assuming smooth sailing, you're on your way to becoming a keyword-driven, search-aware digital content powerhouse.
You're shooting videos, writing interesting blog posts, and publishing content that is optimized, keyword-focused, and well-linked.
Your Facebook page links directly to keyword-rich URLs with great anchor text.
Your content is easily shareable to the usual properties and your press releases and guest posts link back to relevant deep content our your primary digital presence.
It’s a lot of work. It costs money and time. But where are the results?
How do you value, measure ROI, and focus on the best performing content strategies? Now we're at the nexus of web analytics and content marketing – call it content metrics.
A good analytics package will allow you to track referrals for each content piece. Couple this report with time-on-site metrics, pages viewed, and a traditional SEO ranking analysis that shows keywords and ranking URLs. If you can, track conversions and new customers that are generated from organic search landing pages.
If you see a piece of content that’s a winner – celebrate it! Give recognition to team members that create winning content and reward collaboration around keywords and SEO.
Once you have metrics flowing in, you can go back to your editorial plan and start dropping in performance numbers for each piece. If you really want to get fancy, include the number of inbound links to the content (it’s easy to get this from services like Majestic SEO and SEOmoz).
If a specific piece underperformed, try to find out why. If it really worked – gained citations, referrals, and generated page views – try to learn from what worked and apply it across the board.
The great thing about this approach to content marketing is that it ensures automatically that content is search-aware and aligned directly to driving business needs. It’s not a matter of trying to force diverse stakeholders to get on the SEO bandwagon because the content and editorial plan is built from the ground up for search.
As content moves to center stage, it’s imperative that brands become master of this new art.
Consider this the final step in the evolution of search. SEO started as a bolt-on – something you paid for to get your site into the results. Over time it because a new business process or an internal stakeholder. Many firms seem to be stuck at this phase, getting better and better at traditional SEO just as it’s losing relevance.
What’s needed now is to make search and keywords a foundational part of an integrated content marketing strategy. It’s survival of the fittest in the search results, and only the strongest content will survive.
*This article was originally published in Search Engine Watch.