SEO in the Strategic Content Marketing Context
SEO IN THE STRATEGIC CONTENT MARKETING CONTEXT
It is safe to say that the marketing industry has undergone significant changes at a phenomenal pace since the first mass-marketing radio ad was aired in the 1920s in New York.
The concept of content marketing was born when traditional marketing techniques such as TV and radio ads lost their appeal. These traditional ads were quickly replaced by content that people wanted to consume instead of having to consume.
The term “content marketing” was first coined by John F. Oppedahl at a journalism conference in 1996. Today, effective content marketing strategies involve consistently creating and publishing high-quality, valuable, original, and useful content while meticulously adhering to SEO guidelines.
There exists an undeniable symbiotic relationship between content marketing and SEO, where one really can’t be effective without the other. Content marketing strategies drive traffic to your online platforms to help you generate leads, engage with and retain customers, and ultimately drive business revenue.
Given the fact that content marketing and SEO are so closely intertwined, it would be a mistake for companies to ignore SEO when developing their content marketing strategy. So, let’s have a detailed look at some content marketing trends, SEO best practices, and the impact a lack of focus on SEO can have on your content marketing campaigns.
Forms of Content Marketing
Before we explore some of the latest content marketing trends, it may be helpful to look first at the enormous benefits associated with a well-developed content marketing campaign. For example:
- Content marketing is like an online flashlight that guides customers to your website, resulting in leads and sales.
- One of the most effective methods for growing your brand awareness is a well-developed content marketing campaign.
- The best content marketing campaigns have been proven to supercharge your return on investment.
- Content marketing boosts your social channels.
- Content marketing is great for building confidence and trust with your target audience.
- Effective content marketing strategies can establish you as an authority in your industry.
- Once your customers see you as an authority, you automatically improve your customer retention.
- Content marketing allows you to control the conversation, influence public opinion, and set yourself up as a thought leader.
Content marketing comes in many different shapes and sizes and, depending on the purpose of your campaign, you will likely use a combination of long-form and short-form content.
Hands down, long-form content, such as lengthy blog posts, is among the most effective tools in any content marketing campaign. The reason? It allows you to elaborate significantly on the topics you educate your readers about, and it encourages more conversations and link shares.
Long-form content must form an essential part of your content marketing strategy framework to get those much-needed keywords and search phrases on your platforms to allow customers to find you online.
Generally, any content exceeding around 1000 words is considered long-form, such as:
- Blog Posts
- White Papers
- Case Studies
As the name suggests, short-form content is much shorter and generally no more than around 1000 words in length.
Although many argue that long-form content is more effective than short-form content, the reality is that they have completely different purposes. An effective content marketing strategy will employ a combination of long- and short-form content. Some examples where shorter content is very effective include:
- Social Media Posts
- Email Campaigns
- Print and Digital Ads
- Landing Pages
- Fact Sheets
- Press Releases
Content Marketing Trends
The content marketing space is ever-changing. What may have been trendy just a few years ago has either morphed into something else or dropped off the radar entirely.
It is imperative to keep up to date with the latest trends because it takes an enormous amount of time, effort, and resources to develop these complex campaigns.
All your hard work could go to waste if your campaign is not trend adjacent. Here are some of the latest developments to keep an eye on.
Real, Empathetic, and Human-Focused Content
The age-old “business is business” days are long gone. Consumers today want to connect with the brands they support on a deeper emotional level.
Businesses that appear detached from their audiences and the potential difficulties they face can experience damaging consequences.
For instance, if you are a major bank writing an article for a blog post during an unprecedented rise in inflation, you should focus your content on advice to help your customers navigate the challenges of heightened inflation.
You could provide tips on how to increase disposable income by reducing unnecessary credit commitments or advice on interest-free credit card transfers to reduce monthly expenditure.
The key is to ensure that your audience knows that you care about their interests and concerns. This approach will only work, unfortunately, when your intentions are genuine and transparent.
Customer Tailored Content
Creating content just for the sake of having content on your platforms is a counterproductive approach. Keep in mind that there are over six million blog posts published online daily in 2023. This figure is up 300% since 2012.
This means that consumers are inundated with new content daily and will only engage with publications that are truly relevant and helpful to them.
It is not enough to create content anymore, the content you publish must be tailored to the needs of your customers to maximize the value to your audience.
Your content marketing campaigns must be built around actual data on how your customer’s needs change over time. You can keep track of your customer’s habits by implementing a robust Customer Relationship Management process.
The Fatal Flaw of Underestimating User Experience
User experience simply refers to how easy or pleasing a user finds platforms such as your website. A few years ago, user experience was a secondary concern but today your user experience can literally make or break your business. The reason? As technology improves and devices allow for faster consumption of information, potential customers have much higher expectations that a business will ensure a great user experience when they choose to spend time on its platforms.
Your content may be far superior to your competitors’ content but without an exceptional user experience, it may all go to waste. For instance, if your web pages take twice as long to load as theirs, your potential customers will quickly move on.
When it comes to user experience, you must, at the very least, get the following basics right:
- Quality Images
- Consistency in Content Quality, Style, Expression, and Voice
- Page Speed
- Optimization for Mobile Devices
- Regular User Experience Testing
Quality research underpins everything.
If you want to attract quality customers, you must produce and publish well-researched quality content.
We, unfortunately, live in a world where some people capitalize on spreading false content or disinformation deliberately.
A business can quickly lose its good reputation if it is perceived to publish false information—intentionally or unintentionally.
This means that when you make any significant claims in your content, you should back them up with factual data or use quality references.
The good news is that consumers are hungry for well-researched content because there exists such a vast amount of low-quality content online. If you put in the extra effort to create well-researched content, you will attract and build trust with a quality customer base.
Start planning for the metaverse.
The metaverse is simply a 3D version of the internet as we know it. Online interactions started with text-based mediums such as email and instant messaging. This quickly evolved into more media-based interactions such as the use of pictures, videos, and live streaming.
The next online evolution, which is slowly unfolding, is an entire online 3D world, complete with the ability to buy online space to create online “civilizations” that run parallel to the physical world.
The metaverse is still very much in its infancy and no unified or overarching definition has even been agreed on. Even though it is still a long way from infiltrating every house and home globally, we know it’s coming, and it will open up incredible new ways for businesses to interact with their customers on a much deeper level.
According to Agility PR, the metaverse will:
- Rely heavily on user-generated content.
- Completely change the landscape of social media.
- Utilize more or less the current form of ad copy but modified for 3D virtual reality (VR).
- Push sponsored content to the next level.
- Host a variety of events such as concerts, galas, and even contests. These events will be sponsored by businesses and create opportunities to grow brands.
- Push graphic design to new heights.
- Drive the evolution of current content assets. Blogs will likely be modified for VR headsets and incorporate engaging elements. We may also see 3D infographics take off.
Facebook’s parent company Meta firmly believes that the metaverse is the future, and has utilized the majority of its financial resources for the development of hardware and software to advance it.
As Forbes suggests, if your content marketing campaigns are targeting 15 to 30-year-olds, you likely won’t find them on the internet or social media anymore; they are in the metaverse. If you haven’t started planning for the shift to the metaverse yet, you may already be too late.
SEO Best Practices
In terms of online visibility, there are two ways to ensure that your customers find you. The first is through paid advertising such as Google pay-per-click ads. The second way is through Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
SEO is the process of optimizing your content to ensure it ranks high on Google or other search engine results when someone searches for related information.
Google does not charge businesses to rank high in its search results and, therefore, every company has a fair and equal chance to achieve a good ranking. This, however, is much easier said than done.
With constant SEO algorithm updates by Google, keeping track of SEO best practices can be tricky. The key is to do regular research on SEO guidelines. The following eight up-to-date best practices should boost your traffic during 2023:
1. Build your content based on keyword research.
Whether you use keyword planning tools or not, the secret behind great content is the organic placement of relevant keywords throughout your content.
Keywords are really the foundation of SEO. To explain this simply: If you are writing and publishing content on topics no one is searching for, then no one will ever find you online. Therefore, SEO starts with doing research on trending keywords people are using in searches and writing content around those keywords.
Google has a great Keyword Planner for just this purpose. Your keywords should include:
- Primary Keywords. Words and terms with a high search volume relating to the main topic of your content.
- Secondary Keywords. Keywords that play a secondary role in supporting your primary keywords.
- Supporting Language. Related, lower-level keywords you should use throughout your text.
2. Use header tags effectively.
Header tags are used to organize, structure, and separate content logically on a webpage. They run hierarchically from H1 to H6. H1 is usually the title of the page, followed by H2, H3, and so on. Header tags H5 and H6 are not used very often.
The “H” stands for “heading element” but is better known as header tags in the SEO community. Header tags become very relevant when Google crawls and discovers web pages to learn what the page is about.
Through your header tags, you are effectively telling the Google crawler what is important on your page, which helps Google decide if your “important” content should be presented in a search result.
You should include the most relevant keywords to the content that follows any H-tags in the header tag itself.
For example, the heading for this section is “use header tags effectively.” This tells Google that the current content is valuable to anyone who wants to learn more about using header tags effectively.
Google would be very confused if a mistake was made and the header tag for this section said “use a washer effectively” because the keyword “washer” does not follow contextually from the previous sections, nor does the content in this section deal with the use of a washer in any way.
3. Focus on strong meta descriptions.
Metadata is data about data in the webpage code (HTML) that is not always displayed on your website but is read by web crawlers such as Google to get additional information on what your website is about.
If Google has a good understanding of your meta descriptions, it will be easier for the search engine to rank your page in search queries.
Meta descriptions should be brief one to two-sentence phrases that summarize what the content on the web page is about. For example, the meta description for this blog is:
With content marketing and SEO so closely intertwined, companies must consider SEO when developing their content marketing plan. Here’s how.
4. Crop images.
One of the most important ranking factors for search engines is the quality of the user experience. Large pictures and files take longer to load, and Google prioritizes faster pages over slower ones.
With that in mind, one of the easiest ways to get a good ranking is by cropping and trimming all the images on your website to the smallest possible size to ensure that your site loads quickly.
5. Make good use of internal linking.
Internal links are any links from one page on your website to another page on your website. Your customers and search engines use these internal links to navigate and find content on your site.
Search engines can’t find other pages on your site without good internal linking. When you develop a good internal linking structure, you are telling search engines how other pages relate to your home page, how tertiary pages relate to secondary pages, and so on. This gives Google a great deal of context. As Google suggests:
“Some pages are known because Google has already visited them. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page: for example, a hub page, such as a category page, links to a new blog post. Still, other pages are discovered when you submit a list of pages (a sitemap) for Google to crawl.”
6. A user-friendly design goes a long way.
In addition to user experience being a critical ranking factor, search engines like Google also rank sites according to the ease of their User Interface (UI).
A UI is the graphical layout of your website or mobile application and consists of elements such as buttons, headings, links, scrolling, clicking pop-ups, and videos.
A User Interface that is easy on the eyes and simple to navigate has been proven to keep customers engaged for longer periods of time and improve click-through rates.
7. Optimize page speed.
As mentioned above, page speed is a critical SEO ranking factor. There are myriad ways to improve your page speed, but sometimes you need to run a diagnostic test to see exactly what is slowing your website down.
The Google Lighthouse test is an open-source tool to do just that. Once you have run the test on any of your website pages, you will receive a score between 0 and 100. A good score is between 90 and 100, although achieving 100 is very unlikely.
8. Optimize your platforms for voice searches.
Google data from 2018 suggests that around 27% of the global population was already searching with the voice function on mobile devices. This figure has undoubtedly increased significantly since then.
One of the best ways to optimize your content for voice searches is to focus on featured snippets. Google sometimes shows a listing that describes a page before displaying the link to that page. These are called featured snippets and there are five types:
- Numbered List
- Bullet List
Optimizing your content for featured snippets is a complex process but ahrefs.com has a great step-by-step how-to.
How Poor SEO Affects Content Marketing
Content marketing focuses on keeping your audience engaged, whereas SEO focuses on keeping search engines happy.
This is a critical distinction because you are bound to get one wrong when the line between SEO and content marketing start blurring too much.
Another way to look at this is to see SEO as codes we write into our content for AI (Artificial Intelligence), machines, or robots, whereas the content in a marketing campaign is created for human consumption.
When you start focusing too much on keeping AI happy, your content will no longer be of value to any of your clients.
The key is to get the balance between these opposing forces just right. You should focus on:
- Creating and publishing content consistently.
- Diversifying content topics.
- Referencing your own content through internal linking.
- Building external relationships to facilitate external linking.
- Updating and keeping all your content evergreen.
- Removing dead links and rectifying technical errors.
- Not overusing keywords in your content strategy (keyword stuffing).
Forget about keyword stuffing.
Keyword stuffing is an unethical practice where some businesses overuse certain keywords and phrases in the content they publish. This is not just extremely annoying to many readers, but it also goes against SEO best practices and can actually result in penalties.
The two types of keyword stuffing are:
- Unnecessary repetition of words or phrases
- Non-relevant words or phrases used throughout your content
- Using the same word repeatedly and unnaturally in your content
- Attempting to hide text by using white text on a white background
- Using keywords or phrases repetitively in your alt text
- Concealing repeated words or phrases in your website code (HTML)
- Overusing words in meta and comment tags
Ultimately, keyword stuffing is a counterproductive practice that can result in poor user experiences, a bad reputation, loss of customers, and penalties imposed by Google or other search engines.
Use a client-oriented keyword approach.
To make the most of your SEO and keyword selection process, your focus area when selecting keywords should be narrowed down to exactly who your customers are. You should first ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my customer age ranges?
- How proficient are they with online research and technology?
- Where do they live? Does their location affect purchasing decisions?
- Where do my customers work? What are their levels of education?
- Are they retired?
- What languages do they speak?
- Are they married?
- What are their hobbies and interests?
- Are they religious?
- Do they use social media? Which platforms do they use?
- What are their buying habits?
- What issues are important to them?
Once you have a clear picture of the above, you then need to start putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and looking at your products or services from their vantage point.
From this perspective, you should start brainstorming keyword and search phrase ideas and building your content and messaging around that. If you speak to your customer’s initial search intention, you are more likely to convert them into long-term customers.
Content marketing and SEO are two separate practices that are intrinsically linked. One can’t function properly without the other.
The key is to have a clear understanding of each concept and how they work together to achieve their respective goals.
A well-developed content marketing plan must be designed with up-to-date SEO best practices in mind.
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